Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has made a U-turn and closed all of its stores amid widespread anger that the firm may ignore new measures under the partial UK lockdown.
On Monday evening, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that all non-essential stores, including clothing stores, must close immediately. However, Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which includes Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, quickly wrote to all of its staff last night to claim that they were vital workers because they sold sporting and fitness equipment.
The move by the retailer prompted huge criticism and led to #BoycottSportsDirect trending on Twitter.
In an email to staff on Monday evening, the firm’s chief finance officer, Chris Wootton told staff;
“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.
“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).”
The Sports Direct Twitter account also sent a tweet to Boris Johnson to ask if the stores should open in the morning.
The tweet and surrounding actions prompted further criticism on Twitter, including from Sky Sports News Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Sterling who tweeted;
“Seriously tried to stay quiet but for Sports Direct to say they are essential and will stay open is a disgrace.
“It helps jeopardise all of us.
“I suggest the police should enforce closure if every shop like this and there should be huge penalties against them for taking the p.ss.”
On Tuesday morning, cabinet minister Michael Gove made it clear on ITV’s Good Morning Britain that there was no reason why Sports Direct’s shops should stay open and that they were not essential and should be shut.