Li Ning suspends deal with Asafa Powell over doping
Sportswear giant awaiting results of investigation into alleged drug-taking by Jamaican sprinter, who maintains his innocence
Chinese sportswear company Li Ning has suspended its sponsorship of Asafa Powell after the Jamaican sprinter failed a doping test and was formally placed under criminal investigation in Italy for possibly violating anti-doping laws.
The company said it had "great respect for his efforts and hard work" over the years but it was suspending its deal with the former 100-metre world-record holder pending the outcome of a doping investigation.
The announcement comes days after revelations that Powell and fellow Jamaican track star Sherone Simpson tested positive for the stimulant oxilofrone at their national championships last month. Discus thrower Allison Randall and two other athletes also returned positives for banned substances at the same meet.
News on the weekend that Tyson Gay was also under the cloud of doping led sportswear giant Adidas to suspend its sponsorship of the US sprinter on Monday.
Li Ning said it would immediately end its contract with Powell if he was "found to be involved in the use of banned stimulants".
The company said it "is firmly opposed to any acts of deceit that tarnish the principles of fair competition".
Li Ning, which has thousands of retail outlets on the mainland, is gradually gaining recognition in the United States. Last year, Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade signed with Li Ning, which gave the NBA player his own brand within the company. Wade's former Miami teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, had also endorsed the brand.
Powell insists he is not a cheat, saying the findings have left him "completely devastated in many respects".
"My fault here, however, is not cheating but instead not being more vigilant," said Powell, the last man to hold the 100-metre world record before compatriot Usain Bolt shattered it in 2008.
Powell, who turns 31 in November, returned quietly to Jamaica on Tuesday night, according to the Jamaica Observer, and was meeting with lawyers to plan his next move.
Powell has had a rough week to be sure. Since his Sunday statement professing his innocence, police in a northeast Italian town raided a hotel where Powell, Simpson and their newly hired trainer, Christopher Xuereb, were staying. Officers took away seized substances for testing and Powell's publicist said earlier in the week that this was from Xuereb's room. She said the runner handed over to police one bottle of Aleve and one bottle of a common energy drink.
Paul Doyle, the agent for the two Jamaican sprinters, contends something in the supplements the athletes were taking caused it and Xuereb "is the one that provided those".
Xuereb refuses to take the blame, saying he is a "scapegoat" who has done nothing wrong since the Jamaicans hired him in May to provide massage therapy and nutritional help.
The positive tests recorded by Powell and Simpson, who has a gold and two silver Olympic medals to her credit, is part of a bigger doping crisis hitting Jamaica. The findings come a month after another Olympic champion, Veronica Campbell-Brown, tested positive for a banned diuretic.