Tuesday 6 December 2016

Comment: Nike doesn't want any part of Maria Sharapova - so why is Justin Gatlin okay?

Published 08/03/2016 | 10:39

The double standard doesn't appear to make much sense on the face of it. The unrepentant American sprinter Justin Gatlin has twice been banned for drug offences.

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Rather than show contrition, Gatlin has behaved as if the words remorse and regret were forcibly removed from his vocabulary the way five years were taken from his career by the anti-doping authorities.

Despite his chequered past when it comes to racing clean, Nike, his chief sponsors, have stood by him. Just last year the sportswear giant handed Gatlin a new sponsorship deal.

Contrast that show of support with how Nike have treated Maria Sharapova, who last night admitted she tested positive for a substance that was added to the banned list on January 1st this year.

Despite Sharapova's obvious remorse and her willingness to admit fault while also stressing that it was an accident, Nike opted to sever ties with the tennis star.

If you type 'Justin Gatlin' into the Twitter search bar, you will see a lot of people struggling to reconcile the different treatment of two people with almost identical transgressions.

It doesn't make much sense. From a business point of view, Sharapova is far more marketable than Gatlin. The Russian made $24m alone in 2014.

If Nike were the money-hungry company many think they are, it would make far more sense to stick by the athlete who could do more to boost their balance sheet. Realistically, the only people who really care about Justin Gatlin are those who want to see him sidelined from athletics due to his past drug violations, whereas Sharapova appeals to a far broader amount of people.

Many people on social media have questioned whether sexism could have played a part in Nike's decision. Again, this seems unlikely simply because of the contrasting monetary values the two athletes have for the company. Sharapova's last Nike contract was for eight years and $70m. You would have to be VERY sexist to let gender cloud your judgement to the extent that it would be your reason for dropping one of your prized athletes.

The likely reason for the double standard is recency bias. Gatlin last failed a drugs test almost 10 years ago. Sharapova last failed a drugs test less than ten weeks ago at the Australian Open.

Fans might like Sharapova far more than the villainous Gatlin, but Nike have made the right decision in dropping her. It's just a pity that they made the wrong one last year in continuing to reward the American sprinter despite an identical offence.

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