Nike’s chief executive says doping claims make him ‘sick’
Nike’s chairman and chief executive has defended himself and the sportswear company over suggestions it was connected to performance-enhancing drug violations, saying the idea the group was involved in doping “makes me sick”.
Mark Parker’s defence of the New York-listed group’s reputation came as he also stood up for Alberto Salazar, a Nike-supported athletics coach who received a four-year ban from the sport this week.
The US anti-Doping Agency found Mr Salazar had been “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” while head coach of Nike’s Oregon Project, a training programme funded by the company. Jeffrey Brown, a doctor who worked with athletes from the project, also received a four-year ban.
Following a six-year investigation by Usada, the two men were found to have possessed and trafficked performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, and also to have helped to administer the substances in a prohibited way.
According to arbitration documents published this week, the two men said they conducted tests to establish how much testosterone it would take to trigger a positive result on a doping test because they were concerned their athletes could be sabotaged.
Usada countered that this was not an acceptable justification, since the same experiments could just as easily be used for “the nefarious purpose of evading doping control”.
Emails dating back to 2009, published online this week, also appeared to show Mr Parker himself was briefed about the tests. In one note to Dr Brown, Mr Parker expressed an interest in the minimum amount of AndroGel, a testosterone product, that was needed to trigger “a positive result”.
However, in a memo to employees, Mr Parker hit out at “highly misleading” coverage of the correspondence. Far from encouraging doping, he said the experiments were designed to prevent the practice.
“To have my name and Nike’s name linked to this reckless mischaracterisation is offensive,” he wrote.
Mr Parker added that he “had no reason to believe the test was outside any rules”. The Nike chief also stood by Mr Salazar — who is appealing — saying he had acted “in good faith”. According to the chief executive, the coach was “attempting to prevent doping of athletes — exactly the opposite of some of the commentary you may have heard”.
He said: “Nike did not participate in any effort to systematically dope any runners ever; the very idea makes me sick.”
Mr Parker added in the memo that while the American Arbitration Association upheld three charges against Mr Salazar, all were “committed without an intent or effect to dope or cheat”. Mr Salazar and Dr Brown have always denied wrongdoing.
Tim Crow, an independent sports marketing expert, said Nike’s decision to stand by Mr Salazar was a major risk, although he added the company had a history of weathering sporting scandals.
“If the appeal fails, then quite clearly Salazar becomes a non-person and Nike will have no option but to cut their ties with him,” Mr Crow said.
“But Nike have gone from strength to strength for many years. All the indicators are that the brand and stock price is impervious to these sorts of incidents.
“It goes back to the appeal [by Mr Salazar] and what light that shows on Mark Parker’s knowledge. [If the appeal fails] his position will be even more uncomfortable than it is now.”