Sports Direct has announced that it will fall into line with government orders to close all non-essential shops to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sports equipment retailer, which sells a wide range of golf brands, had initially said that it would not be closing its stores despite recent government guidance, but following a backlash from MPs, social media and its own staff, all of its stores are now shut.
Retailers that have been advised they are allowed to stay open include supermarkets, pharmacies and post offices – but there was no mention of sporting retailers in yesterday’s press conference.
In a letter to employees following the Prime Minister’s announcement on March 23, Sports Direct’s chief finance officer, Chris Wootton, said: “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). There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.”
Politicians including Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery and Labour MP Jess Phillips hit back at the retailer’s decision, saying “selling sportswear is not a essential service” and that “there is nothing people cannot live without in Sports Direct.”
Sports Direct will continue to operate its online operations.