Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tiger Woods

    His marriage may be in deep trouble but Tiger Woods's main sponsor – Nike – is standing by its man.
Phil Knight, the chairman and co-founder of the sportswear company, has given his unequivocal backing to Woods at a time when other sponsors are distancing themselves from the world's top golfer. Knight said: "When his career is over, you'll look back on these indiscretions as a minor blip." Speaking to the Sports Business Journal, Knight brushed off the scandal engulfing Woods as "part of the game" of sponsorship deals.
Woods has announced he is taking an "indefinite" break from golf after admitting infidelity. The admission prompted the financial services company Accenture to sever links with Woods. Proctor & Gamble and Gillette have said they would limit the use of Woods in its marketing.
    But Nike will continue to sponsor him. It has too much to lose to do otherwise. Nike has invested heavily in Woods and built its entire range of golf sportswear and equipment around him. It signed him up in 1996 when Woods turned professional in a deal worth $40m (£25m) a year. Before then, it had not entered the golf market.
    Despite the public backing, in private Knight and the other Nike executives must be nervous about Woods's future in the game. The company's association with Woods, like that with other sporting greats, has fuelled Nike's expansion.
    It has built a brand with the slogan Just Do It, by associating with controversial sportsmen, from whom more conservative sponsors have shied away. Other Nike stars have included John McEnroe, Ronaldo and Michael Jordan.
    In his interview, Knight said of Woods: "I think he's been really great".
Woods continues to feature prominently on Nike's website. "Being the best takes dedication, patience and insight. For Tiger Woods, these are the pillars of his approach," it says.
The Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer said it would also continue to sponsor Woods, saying the company did not care about the golfer's private life.
    Company spokeswoman Mariam Sylla said the sponsorship was unchanged because Woods remained the world's best golfer.
    "He's the best in his domain. We respect his performance in the sport," she said, adding that Woods's personal life was "not our business."
Tag Heuer has been sponsoring Woods since 2002. Before the current scandal it was estimated that Woods earned around $100m a year in endorsements.

    Tiger Woods found himself drawn into fresh controversy today after it was reported in the United States that a Canadian doctor who helped the golfer recover from knee surgery is being investigated by the FBI under suspicion of supplying athletes with performance-enhancing drugs.
    The New York Times reported that a medicine bag belonging to Toronto-based doctor Anthony Galea was found with human growth hormones and Actovegin, a drug extracted from calf's blood, when his assistant was stopped at the US-Canada border in September. Importing Actovegin into the US is illegal. The doctor was arrested by Canadian police on 15 October.
    The FBI opened its investigation based in part on medical records found on the doctor's computer relating to several professional athletes, the newspaper reported.
    Galea's lawyers Brian Greenspan said his innovative treatments do not break any laws or violate anti-doping rules in sport. "We're confident that an investigation of Dr Galea will lead to his total vindication. Dr Galea was never engaged in any wrongdoing or any impropriety. Not only does he have a reputation that is impeccable, he is a person at the very top of his profession," he said.
    Galea is widely known in North America professional sports as a pioneer of "blood spinning" – a controversial treatment that involves injecting a patient with a concentrated form of their own blood. Advocates believe it helps speed up recovery from injury. He has treated a number of top-class athletes, including the Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey, the US Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and NFL players, as well as Woods. There is no suggestion in the New York Times story that any of these athletes took performance-enhancing drugs.
    In an interview with the newspaper, Galea said he had visited the golfer's home in Florida earlier this year after Woods' agents at IMG in Cleveland became concerned about his slow rate of recovery from knee surgery in the summer of 2008.
    Two days after the first treatment, Woods texted him, the doctor said: "He said he couldn't believe how good he feels. He'd joke and say, 'I can jump up on the kitchen table,' and I said, 'Please don't.'"
Asked to comment on Woods' involvement with Galea, the golfer's agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG, said in an email to the New York Times: "I would really ask that you guys don't write this? If Tiger is not implicated, and won't be, let's please give the kid a break."
    Galea, who acknowledged he has used human growth hormone himself for 10 years, told the newspaper he never gave any athletes HGH, which is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. He told the New York Times he has never combined HGH or Actovegin with his platelet treatments.
"All these athletes come see me in Canada because I fix them, and I think people just assume that I'm giving them stuff," he told the newspaper. "They don't have to come to me to get HGH and steroids. You can walk into your local gym in New York and get HGH."
    In a separate case Galea is also being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for smuggling, advertising and selling unapproved drugs as well as criminal conspiracy.



    ROME — Even hospitalized and in pain, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi can polarize Italians.
The bloody image of Berlusconi, reeling after being attacked as he signed autographs following a rally Sunday, has created sympathy and solidarity on one hand, while on the other generating praise for his attacker on Facebook and YouTube.
    The strong reactions were similar to those Berlusconi has drawn during his 15 years in politics.
"The bloodied, stunned, scared face of Silvio Berlusconi will remain an icon in the history of this republic," said a national newspaper, La Stampa, which is not owned by Berlusconi's media company.
Berlusconi, 73, was rushed to the San Raffaele hospital in Milan after a man pushed through the crowd and hit him in the face with a souvenir statue of Milan's Duomo, the Gothic cathedral that is a symbol of the city.
The attacker, identified as 42-year-old Massimo Tartaglia, was arrested at the scene and remained in jail in Milan. Police and family members said he had no criminal record but a history of mental problems.
Italy's ANSA news agency reported late Monday that Tartaglia had written a letter to Berlusconi, saying he was sorry for his "superficial, cowardly and uncontrolled" act.
Berlusconi was in pain Tuesday, unable to eat or leave the hospital for at least another day, said his doctor, Alberto Zangrillo.

    The attack left the premier with a fractured nose, two broken teeth and lip cuts. He was being given antibiotics and drugs for persistent pain, the hospital said in a midday bulletin. He will not need surgery, Zangrillo said.
    The attack, which shocked Italians, came amid an increasingly tense political atmosphere.
Berlusconi has for months denounced a "climate of hatred" he says surrounds him as he fends off a sex scandal and judicial troubles.
    His spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, said this feeling was stronger than ever in the hours that preceded the attack, even in the car ride toward the rally.
"He told me, 'You know, this climate of hatred and tension really leaves me worried,'" Bonaiuti said Monday. "'Don't you think something might happen to me?'"
Since he stepped into politics in the mid-1990s, Berlusconi has further polarized Italy – a society that has been split into fiercely opposed factions for centuries.
    His critics charge that the media mogul-turned-politician assembles so much power that he is a threat to democracy, bending the law to his advantage. Admirers love his charisma, wealth, even his jokes. To them, he is what they would like to be. They praise his can-do persona and believe he is a reformist.
    Despite legal woes and conflict-of-interest accusations, Berlusconi has been voted into office three times. His latest victory in 2006 signaled his triumphant return to power less that two years after his second term ran out and he narrowly lost elections to a center-left coalition.
    So strong are the sentiments that an aide years ago wrote a book collecting the insults that political adversaries had thrown at the conservative leader.
    But even by the Italian standards of mudslinging, the climate has become increasingly tense in recent months, with Berlusconi becoming increasingly vitriolic in the face of rising protests.
Italy's largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, said Monday that politics in Italy had come to resemble "civil war."
    "The violent aggression on the premier is the result of this degeneration," said the newspaper, which is independent of Berlusconi's holdings.
    Berlusconi is entangled in scandals over his purported fondness for young women and an alleged relationship with a prostitute. The premier's wife is divorcing him, but Berlusconi insists he has never paid for sex, nor had inappropriate relationships.
    He has been buffeted by protests, with tens of thousands marching in Rome on Dec. 5 to demand his resignation. And a Mafia turncoat recently alleged that Berlusconi had ties to the underworld, an accusation the premier has forcefully dismissed.
    Despite setbacks and some squabbling with his allies, his popularity has remained high. The attack might reinforce that. "True Italians are always with you," said a well-wishing banner posted on the walls of the hospital.
    Berlusconi has fired back against his detractors, launching vehement attacks that have added to the poisonous climate.
    He said the magistrates who put him on trial for corruption are politically motivated communists. Last week he denounced the "party of magistrates" as a threat to Italy's sovereignty, and he has also attacked the Supreme Court and the president of the republic.
    Roberto Maroni, who as interior minister is in charge of police forces, said he counted some 300 groups on Facebook praising Berlusconi's assailant, and he was considering pulling them off the social network. He also mentioned YouTube videos showing the attack with comments inciting more violence.
    Maroni presided over an emergency meeting in Milan that put the security surrounding the premier under scrutiny. The minister said he did not see any immediate faults, but added that a full review would take place.
Typically, about 30 secret service agents protect Berlusconi at his public appearances. But the premier, who considers himself a man of the people with a taste for showmanship, also likes to mingle with his supporters and shake hands.
    "Berlusconi has the right to get close to his supporters because this is democracy, this is politics," said Maroni.