Chain criticised

Backlash forces Sports Direct into u-turn over plan to stay open

Sports Direct google maps Kirkcaldy

Backlash: Sports Direct remains open

Sports Direct has dropped plans to open all its shops following widespread disgust and ridicule.

Immediately after the government ordered all UK shops selling non-essential goods to close, Sports Direct announced it would stay open to sell “vital assets”.

But after widespread criticism online and on social media, it said this morning it will not open “until we are given the go-ahead by the government”.

UK government minister Michael Gove said he could not see “any justification” for it to stay open.

“People can walk, run or cycle, they should, but there is no reason for a store like Sports Direct to remain open,” he said.

Sports Direct sparked a backlash after telling staff that all its 491 stores would remain open.

Mike Ashley’s UK-wide chain, which includes Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Evans Cycles, contacted all its 17,559 staff immediately after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the closure of all non-essential retailers.

An email seen by PA Media and sent by the chief finance officer, Chris Wootton, said: “We stock a huge range of sports equipment designed for exercising at home … indeed, home fitness is the number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself.

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“Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms, the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Consequently, we are uniquely well placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis and thus our Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will remain open where possible to allow us to do this (in accordance with the government’s current social distancing guidance).

“There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.”

Mr Wootton signed off: “Thanks for your incredible efforts during this time.”

One Sports Direct employee told The Sun: “I think it’s absolutely disgusting at a time when the Nation is facing the biggest crisis in modern history that Sports Direct are willing to risk the health and well-being of their employees and the general public to commercially exploit the retail market.”

“They are not an essential retailer by any stretch of the imagination and they should put people before pounds.”

Don’t leave your house… unless you work for Sports Direct

– Tweet

The news prompted an angry reaction on social media. One user said: “Why not use your 30 minutes of exercise time a day to come to Sports Direct and buy some golf balls!”

Another tweeted: “Don’t leave your house other than to buy food/medicine/essential work or if you work at sports direct. Love that. #Fuming.”

Rival sportswear chain JD Sports Fashion has today confirmed that all its stores are closed in the UK, United States and Europe.

“Whilst our trading websites continue to accept and fulfil orders, this represents a comparatively small mitigation in terms of overall profit contribution,” it said in a trading update.

The Prime Minister said restrictions would be tightened so people should not be going shopping except for essentials such as food and medicine.

Although that meant that food retailers and pharmacies would remain open, Mr Johnson said people should limit shopping trips and use delivery services where possible.

He also said people could leave home for exercise, but only with people they are living with, and while maintaining social distancing from others.

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