News 25 January 2016

Analysis: Adidas to end IAAF sponsorship early

Adidas has reportedly told the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that it has decided to end its sponsorship early. The sportswear manufacturer wrote to inform the IAAF of the decision last week, reports the BBC. However, it is understood that following the letter, the sportswear manufacturer and the IAAF are in close talks in an attempt to salvage the partnership, due to expire in 2019.

“The IAAF is in close contact with all its sponsors and partners as we embark on our reform process”, read a statement emailed by the IAAF. An Adidas statement read: ‘As you know, Adidas has a clear anti-doping policy in place. Therefore, we are in close contact with the IAAF to learn more about their reform process.’

The BBC reports that Adidas first informed the IAAF about its concerns in November last year, after the release of the first report of the Independent Commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) into allegations of systemic doping in Russia. Adidas declined comment when asked by the Sports Integrity Initiative at that time, however other sponsors expressed their concerns.

‘As an Official Partner of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Series, we are disappointed by recent news reports of unethical behaviour within the track and field world’, read a statement e-mailed from IAAF sponsor Canon. ‘We will carefully follow developments and look to the IAAF to respond swiftly and responsibly’. Canon’s sponsorship expires on 31 December 2016. ‘We have no intention to terminate the contract before that date’, said the company in a cryptic statement emailed to the Sport Integrity Initiative.

‘As a supplier of athletic surfaces and equipment the current facts are unrelated to our business and our relationship with the IAAF’, read a statement e-mailed from IAAF supplier Mondo. ‘We are as surprised and concerned as all people involved in sport and in athletics’.

Since then, the WADA Independent Commission has released part two of its report, which alleged that IAAF sponsorship and TV contracts may have been affected by IAAF corruption. Over the weekend, Russian bank VTB said that it was preparing legal action against WADA due to the allegations made in the report, which alleged that VTB’s sponsorship had been agreed to cover a shortfall in TV rights income for the 2013 Moscow World Championships. ‘There appears to be a connection between the awarding of such rights to broadcasters (probably Russian) in return for muting the discovery of some positive samples by Russian athletes’, it read.

Adidas signed an 11-year partnership in 2008, which it described as a ‘re-signing’ in a press release. The company’s relationship with the IAAF dates back to 1928, as detailed on the IAAF internet site. It is understood to have supported the IAAF since 1982, when the IAAF decided to abandon the traditional concept of amateurism.

Given the close relationship between the IAAF and Adidas and revelations from the WADA Independent Commission that sponsorship and TV contracts may have been involved with IAAF corruption, questions are likely to follow about how much the sportswear manufacturer knew about what was going on at the IAAF.

In September 2014, the IAAF renewed its commercial partnership with marketing agency Dentsu until 2029. The Japanese company appears to be happy to continue working with the IAAF. ‘The IAAF and its worldwide commercial partner Dentsu Inc. are in close and regular contact on all commercial matters’, read a statement emailed from the Japanese company. ‘As part of such communication, Dentsu’s Executive Officer Kiyoshi Nakamura has expressed that “we have full confidence in the new leadership of the IAAF and the reform process being led by current IAAF President Sebastian Coe and the IAAF World Athletics Series remains an important property within Dentsu’s global sports business portfolio. At the beginning of December 2015, Sebastian Coe visited Tokyo for a first meeting with Dentsu and several of the Official IAAF Partners which was extremely well received.”‘

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