Sponsors distance themselves from Pistorius

Last updated 13:34 19/02/2013

Oscar Pistorius has received "overwhelming support" from his fans, his agent says, as the athlete remains in custody charged with murdering his girlfriend. Sarah Charlton reports.

CHARGED: South African 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius breaks down during his first court appearance in Pretoria.

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Two major sponsors, Oakley and Nike, distanced themselves from Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius after the South African sports star was charged with murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend.

Oakley, the eyewear maker, suspended its contract with Pistorius. And Nike, which sells shoes and other athletic gear, said it has no plans to use him in future ad campaigns.

Pistorius lost both of his legs in childhood. Racing on carbon-fibre blades, he was the first amputee athlete to run at the world championships in 2011, and he made history competing in the London Olympics last year.

His success at overcoming hardship made him popular with South Africans, and a desirable pitchman for advertisers. On Thursday, he was arrested and charged with shooting his girlfriend to death in his home in South Africa.

His family has denied that he murdered his girlfriend, the model Reeva Steenkamp.  Pistorius' agent has cancelled the athlete's future scheduled races. 

Nike Inc. confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday that it had no plans to use Pistorius in future campaigns.

Nike spokesman KeJuan Wilkins declined to say whether Nike had previously had any plans for Pistorius, or whether it will remove current advertising that includes him.

A 2007 Nike Internet ad showing Pistorius starting to sprint in his blades with the caption: ''I am the bullet in the chamber'' had already been pulled.

Wilkins said the wording in the 2007 campaign ''was in reference to Oscar's speed and performance on the track.

Nike felt it was appropriate to take the ad down from Oscar's website recognizing the sensitivities of the situation.'' Later on Monday, Oakley, in an emailed statement, said that ''in light of the recent allegations, Oakley is suspending its contract with Oscar Pistorius, effective immediately.''

The California company, a unit of Italian glasses and sunglasses maker Luxottica Group, has been associated with Pistorius since 2009, according to the athlete's website. Pistorius' website, which has been posting statements from his manager and his family, still shows other Nike ads, as well as logos from Nike, Oakley and other companies. 

Nike, which spent US$800 million on endorsements in its last fiscal year, has found itself in tricky situations with athletes before. It dropped Lance Armstrong in October 2012 after charges of widespread doping on his cycling teams.

Armstrong has since admitted to doping and has been stripped of his seven Tour de France victories, and was also dropped by other sponsors. 

But Nike stood by golfer Tiger Woods after he admitted to infidelities and went to rehab for sex addiction, and restarted a relationship with football player Michael Vick once he had served time for illegal dog-fighting.  

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- Reuters

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