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SBD Global/February 15, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Murder Charges Against Paralympian Pistorius Has Some Sponsors Quiet, Others Backing Out

Oscar Pistorius won Gold in the 400m at the 2012 London Paralympics.
The sponsors that helped make sprinter 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 murdering his girlfriend REEVA STEENKAMP on Thursday, according to Vanessa Kortekaas of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The disabled athlete, whose performance at the London Games "made him into a national hero in South Africa," had links with Nike, Oakley, perfume maker Thierry Mugler and running blade manufacturer Ossur. His sponsorship deals were "estimated to be worth" about £3M ($4.6M). 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" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 2/14). Ossur CEO JON SIGURDSSON said, "I can only say that our thoughts and prayers are with Oscar and the families involved in the tragedy. It is completely premature to discuss or speculate on our business relationship with him" (REUTERS, 2/14).

WAITING FOR THE FACTS: In a statement, the Int'l Paralympic Committee said that it will not be commenting on the matter at this time. The statement read, "This is a police matter, with an investigation currently underway. Therefore it would be inappropriate for the IPC to comment on this incident until the official police process has concluded (IPC).  MARKETING WEEK's Russell Parsons said that BT is sticking by Pistorius "for the moment." A BT spokesperson said Pistorius "is still a BT ambassador." BT "featured the athlete prominently in its Games marketing activity last year." In a statement, BT said, "We are shocked by this terrible, tragic news. We await the outcome of the South African police investigation" (MARKETING WEEK, 2/14).

PULLING THE PLUG: In Johannesburg, Gabi Mbele reported Pistorius’ adverts with private broadcaster M-Net "are being pulled off air." The campaign, which has Pistorius alongside two local comedians, first aired on Jan. 20, and shows the three "promoting the Academy Awards campaign being run by the channel." M-Net spokesperson Lani Lombard confirmed that its Pistorius campaign "would be pulled off air on Thursday morning." Lombard said, "Out of respect and sympathy to the bereaved, M-Net will be pulling its entire Oscar campaign featuring Oscar Pistorius with immediate effect" (TIMES LIVE, 2/14). ESPN's Darren Rovell reported that a picture was posted on Twitter of "construction workers already taking down a billboard for the campaign from the side of a road in Johannesburg" (ESPN, 2/14).

NIKE'S STANCE: BUSINESS DAY's Samuel Mungadze reported Nike South Africa said that it "will not yet withdraw its support" for Pistorius. Nike SA spokesperson SERUSCKA NAIDOO said, "This is a very unfortunate story, and it is still under investigation. We’ll not make any decision until we hear from Oscar or his agent." Pistorius' management team, In-site Sports Management Managing Dir Peet van Zyl said the incident was "very unfortunate," adding that In-site will issue a statement in due course (BUSINESS DAY, 2/14). A Nike advert with the tagline "I am the bullet in the chamber" has been removed from Pistorius' website. The ad showed a lycra-clad Pistorius "sprinting out of the blocks next to the sportswear brand's 'Just do it' message and swoosh" (SPORT24, 2/14). In London, James Riach noted Nike has "an unfortunate history of associating with athletes who attract adverse publicity." Among them are LANCE ARMSTRONG, TIGER WOODS, MARION JONES, JUSTIN GATLIN and MICHAEL VICK (GUARDIAN, 2/14).

ATHLETES REACT: In London, Riach reported athletes on Twitter "reacted with shock." Team GB heptathlon Gold Medalist JESSICA ENNIS wrote, "Woken up to the horrendous news about Oscar Pistorius mistakenly shooting his girlfriend. What an awful tragedy." Britain Paralympic 100m Gold Medalist JONNIE PEACOCK wrote, "can not believe it....", while the former 400m sprinter IWAN THOMAS wrote, "I am in total shock to hear the news about athlete and friend Oscar, my thoughts are with him and all involved. That's all I have to say." British 400m Bronze Medalist KATHARINE MERRY described Pistorius as: "One of the nicest guys, true gent....omg.....in shock for oscar and this situation. Imagine, just imagine..." British triple jumper PHILLIPS IDOWU tweeted, "Waking up to extremely sad news about Oscar Pistorius mistakenly shooting his girlfriend. Terrible tragedy, thoughts & prayers with you" (GUARDIAN, 2/14).

WORLDWIDE ATTENTION: In Johannesburg, Thabang Matjama wrote "The whole world woke up on Thursday morning to reports that Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius had allegedly killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria home." The Huffington Post ran the headline, "'Blade Runner' charged with murder." The London Guardian said Pistorius had been described by former LOCOG Chair SEBASTIAN COE before the London Olympics as a "real inspiration to people around the world." The N.Y. Times, however, "noted his interest in guns, and the fact that he had produced a weapon during an interview" (MAIL & GUARDIAN, 2/14). SPORT24 noted Pistorius was "publicly adored but has a rocky private life of rash behaviour, beautiful women, guns and fast cars." His "playboy private life has courted controversy." Ex-girlfriend SAMANTHA TAYLOR, in November, said, "Oscar is certainly not what people think he is." Taylor added, "Oscar has a way with women. Strange, she's probably not the only one at his side" (SPORT24, 2/14).

THE CASE: REUTERS' Tiisetso Motsoeneng reported police said that they "opened a murder case after a 30-year-old woman was found dead at the Paralympic and Olympic star's house in the Silverlakes gated complex on the capital's outskirts." The police said Pistorius and Steenkamp had been "the only people in the house at the time of the shooting," adding that "witnesses had been interviewed about the early morning incident." Policeman DENISE BEUKES said, "We are talking about neighbors and people that heard things earlier in the evening and when the shooting took place" (REUTERS, 2/14).
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