The sponsors that helped make Oscar Pistorius the highest profile and highest paid Paralympic athlete in the world are now having to rethink their commitment to the sportsman, after he was charged with murder on Thursday.
The disabled athlete, whose performance at the London 2012 games made him into a national hero in South Africa, had links with Nike, sunglass manufacturer Oakley, Thierry Mugler, the perfume maker, and running blade manufacturer Ossur. In total, his sponsorship deals were estimated to be worth about £3m.
Already, South African satellite TV channel M-Net has pulled its campaign promoting the forthcoming Oscar awards season. “Out of respect and sympathy to the bereaved, M-Net will be pulling its entire Oscar campaign featuring Oscar Pistorius with immediate effect,” the channel said.
A Nike spokesperson said: “Nike extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to all families concerned following this tragic incident. As it is a police matter, Nike will not comment further at this time.”
British Telecom, another sponsor of Mr Pistorius, said it was “shocked by this terrible, tragic news”. On Thursday, BT was also shortlisted for an industry award for its sponsorship of Mr Pistorius. No one at Oakley was available for comment.
The accusations against Mr Pistorius follow other sporting scandals. Cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping and ultimately lost his Nike sponsorship deal. Similarly, Gatorade ended its deal with Tiger Woods after it emerged he cheated on his wife with prostitutes. In both cases, companies were slow to decide about the future of the sponsorship deals.
The nature of the allegations faced by Mr Pistorius mean that “it’s a bit of a new territory,” said Nigel Currie of sports marketing consultancy Brand Rapport.
“With all the others there was always the chance he could come back in some other guise or re-invent himself or do something,” said Mr Currie. This time “if [ Mr Pistorius] is responsible, it is life and death as opposed to a personal scandal or a cheating drugs scandal,” he added.
He compared the case to the frenzy surrounding American football player O.J. Simpson’s murder trial in 1995. He added though, that Thursday’s accusation comes when the South African athlete is still “at the peak of his powers”.
The 26-year-old face of the Paralympic movement called London 2012 a “dream come true”. Last summer he became the first double leg amputee to compete at the Olympic Games, running in the 400m sprint, but his sporting glory was cemented at the Paralympics, two weeks later, where he won two gold medals and a silver medal.
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