The IAAF were dealt another significant blow this week, as sportswear giant Adidas announced they would cancel their lucrative sponsorship deal with athletics’ governing body. The German company’s decision is said to be a consequence of the ongoing high-profile doping scandal plaguing the sport, but what are the real reasons behind them cancelling their sponsorship four years early?
Adidas don’t want their brand associated with an organisation where “corruption is embedded” and who are responsible for covering up state sponsored doping in Russia – fair, right? That would all be well and good, but Adidas have not made any motion to cancel their current sponsorship deal with FIFA (which runs until 2030) despite the ongoing corruption problems they face.
So why is there such a stark contrast between the way Adidas view their sponsorship deal with the IAAF compared to FIFA? It’s simple; cancelling their sponsorship with the IAAF is in the commercial interests of Adidas, while the same cannot be said about their deal with football’s governing body. After all, Adidas had no problem making huge amounts of money from athletics in the 1970s and 80s, a time where there were continuous allegations of state sponsored doping and covered-up drug tests. In fact, the sportswear giant were a significant player in making athletics the money-spinning sport it is today.
It’s sheer hypocrisy, let’s not forget that Horst Dassler (son of Adolf “Adi” Dassler i.e. the founder of Adidas) founded International Sports and Leisure (ISL), a sporting rights company which was embroiled and then implicated in a $100m bribery scandal involving a previous generation of leading FIFA officials.
Adidas have barely said a word about the FIFA crisis, never mind threatened to pull the plug on their sponsorship deal. In essence the IAAF situation couldn’t be better for Adidas, as this sporting scandal is the perfect excuse for them to get rid of sponsorship in a market that has diminished in appeal. Evidently this is solely a business decision rather than a moral one.
It’s no secret that the sportswear giant are now gravitating their interests towards particular markets – their record-breaking $750m deal with Manchester United is a perfect example of why they may want to cut money from other endorsements.
It’s even a possibility that this boils down to sports marketing and brand promotion. Perhaps Adidas thought their decision would make competitors like Nike look bad in comparison? After all the US-based sports giant continues to back drug cheat Justin Gatlin and Alberto Salazar despite allegations surrounding Project Oregon. Not to mention that Nike’s swoosh logo can be found on the kit of all Russian athletes.
There is no doubt that there are differences between the scandals the IAAF and FIFA find themselves embroiled in. FIFA’s may be about hosting rights and marketing, but the problems within athletics go much deeper as the effect of corruption is felt on the track. The fact that the morality of the actual physical competition can be called into question is extremely problematic for athletics and IAAF President, Sebastian Coe.
Adidas’ decision to terminate their contract with the IAAF will mean a loss of over $30m in the next four years. However it’s not the financial consequences that are the main problem for athletics’ governing body and Lord Coe, but rather how they are perceived. The bottom line of the IAAF won’t be hit too hard, but the same cannot be said about their reputation and image in the sporting world.
As the stock of athletics continues to fall, Lord Coe’s mission to save his sport becomes a more and more arduous task.