Nike Inc. is ending its Oregon Project supporting elite track athletes after a top coach was banned for violating anti-doping rules in a scandal that has engulfed the sport’s biggest corporate backer.
A company spokesman confirmed the decision, which came less than two weeks after the project’s head and coach Alberto Salazar was barred from the sport for four years.
The project’s demise is a blow to Nike’s track and field efforts. The company has $4.5 billion in annual running sales, and its marketing within the professional ranks is a large part of that appeal. Nike is the biggest sponsor of running both in the U.S. and abroad, with close partnerships with the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Track & Field, international events and national bodies.
“This situation, along with ongoing unsubstantiated assertions, is a distraction for many of the athletes and is compromising their ability to focus on their training and competition needs,” Nike Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker said in a letter sent to the project team Thursday. “I have therefore made the decision to wind down the Oregon Project.”
Nike shares were up 1.3% to $94.23 at 9:35 a.m. Friday in New York, having gained 25% this year through Thursday.
Following a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency probe that spanned years, an independent arbitration panel found that Salazar helped traffic testosterone, a banned substance, and tampered with evidence, but found no evidence that he administered the drugs to runners. Salazar has denied wrongdoing and has said he will appeal.