Why, you may wonder, has Adidas suddenly found the moral high ground? The German sportswear company does, after all, have a contract with Fifa that runs until 2030 and has breathed not a word about that particular crisis, even as the likes of Coke and McDonald’s have done. It was also its former chairman chairman, Horst Dassler, son of Adi Dassler, who set up the notorious International Sport and Leisure marketing company, who would eventually be found guilty of paying tens of millions in bribes to leading officials at Fifa and throughout sport.
Yet suddenly Adidas has moved to cancel its longstanding sponsorship relationship with athletics. Why? Because, for the first time, throughout the many sporting scandals that have erupted around it over the years, doing the right thing has aligned with its own commercial interest.
It hardly needs saying again that the athletics scandal is fundamentally different to the scandals that usually implicate the men that run sport. Yes, it is about corruption and bribery, but it is not about ticketing, marketing, hosting rights and so on. It is a scandal that has stepped on to the field of play. It is about cheating. If the integrity of the sporting contest is lost, the motivation for your logo to be all over it is lost too.
For the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), this is extremely serious. It is not a rich organisation. Adidas is a longstanding partner. In the past, part of its problem with doping has been blamed on the sheer fact that it does not have the cash to properly police it. It is an expensive business, and the cheats have more cash than they do. We now know that its highest officials were not only failing to solve the problem, but personally enriching themselves to cover it up.
That is a decision that will now cost the IAAF tens of millions of dollars over the coming years. One of the arguments constantly put about by big sponsors of sporting events, when they are asked to speak up or take action in the wake of corruption allegations, is that if they pull out, their rivals will merely step in. If Coke walk away, Pepsi will only replace them. For Samsung, there is Sony. For Emirates Airways, there is Etihad or Qatar.
That is a reality that probably does not apply here. The likelihood of Nike racing to take Adidas’s place is extremely low, not least as the IAAF President Lord Coe has been very reluctantly forced to end his agreement with them.
Adidas have been there from the very first step of international sport’s journey to the corporatised Heart of Mammon. The deals it made with Fifa, and the International Olympic Committee, in the 1970s led the way in transforming sport in to a multi-billion dollar industry. They mutated the game into something which is apparently now too ugly even for its own creator.
The challenge facing Lord Coe, which is no less than to save his sport, was hard enough already. He is serious about the challenge, and is a highly capable operator. But it will now be even tougher than before.