Paris – The murder charge brought against Oscar Pistorius, whose fairytale story attracted multi-million dollar investment from various worldwide brands, has plunged his army of sponsors into turmoil.
From sports equipment giant Nike to British Telecom (BT), who made him the face of their publicity campaign for the London Paralympics last year, through to Ossur, the Icelandic-based manufacturaters of his prosthetic limbs, the response to the shocking news appears to be “wait and see”.
“Given the ongoing legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate for us to give any further comment at present. Our thoughts are with all those affected,” a BT spokesperson told AFP, adding that the six-time Paralympic champion would remain a brand ambassador for the time being.
“At this moment, it's a matter that's being investigated. We're not speaking about the sponsorship,” said Nike South Africa spokeswoman Seruscka Naidoo, who said there was an “issue at hand here which is much bigger than a sponsorship”.
Pistorius' website had featured a Nike advert with a photo of the South African accompanied by the slogan “I am the bullet in the chamber” before its removal in the wake of Thursday's shooting.
“It's Oscar's website, it's not a Nike-owned website,” clarified the American manufacturer.
Meanwhile, M-Net Movies, a subscription-funded TV channel in South Africa, elected to pull its “Every night is Oscar night” campaign “out of respect and sympathy to the bereaved”, it said in a tweet.
Born without the fibula bone in either leg, Pistorius, 26, became the first double amputee to challenge able-bodies athletes at the Olympic Games, transcending the little covered world of handicapped sport to become a global icon.
He also filmed an advertisement for the “A*Men” perfume by Thierry Mugler – who didn't wish to comment further on the matter – with sunglass manufacturer Oakley another of his backers.
The accumulative total of his earnings from sponsors, which accounts for much of his income, was reportedly $4.7 million (3.5
million euros), according to the Financial Times.
The next step for sponsors is unclear.
However, they haven't been afraid to sever ties with sports stars in less tragic circumstances.
At the end of last year, Nike ended a 16-year partnership with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong following the publication of the US Anti-Doping Agency report that led to the voiding of his seven Tour de France titles.
Oakley, the makers of Trek bikes, Anheuser-Busch brewery, the FRS energy drink company, sports nutrition firm (Honey Stinger) and the producers of Giro cycling helmets also quickly ceased their dealings with the American.
Golfer Tiger Woods also lost several sponsors, such as consulting firm Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and Gillette after revelations about his infidelity in 2009. – Sapa-AFP