Brazilian soccer star Neymar has challenged Nike to end its endorsement deal with him after the company terminated his contract last week, according to  Bloomberg News. Nike said the decision to end a deal with a player who had been one of the biggest stars in the game for the past decade was based on “reasons unrelated to football performance.”

The story of Nike and Cristiano Ronaldo has recently taken an interesting twist, as the company has come under fire for what some are calling a “brazen attempt to gain market share” in Brazil by having the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) to endorse Neymar’s split with Nike, and the subsequent Nike SB “Neymar” sneaker. Nike is some way to go from being a bit player in Brazilian football to being a publicly-traded company, however; it is worth noting that in the foreign market, Nike is still in a position of market-share strength: Nike doesn’t even come close to the market-share of Adidas in the Brazilian market, for example.

Brazilian soccer star Neymar has challenged Nike to release a new version of its famous “Flyknit” sneaker using a lower-cost material following claims the company’s products were made in China. The Brazilian, who plays for FC Barcelona, said the company’s decision to use Chinese factories to produce the sneakers was “shocking” and had led to the “dismantling” of its “brand”. The company responded by saying its use of Chinese factories was standard practice.

Soccer superstar Neymar lashed out at Nike Inc on Friday, questioning the company’s handling of sexual assault allegations by a Nike employee and denying the reason for his breakup with the sportswear giant.

In a post on Instagram, Neymar challenged his former sponsor, claiming that Nike lied about the reasons for the breakup and knew about the employee’s allegations against him long before taking action. Such a serious problem and they did nothing. Who is really responsible? he wrote.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Nike has terminated the Brazilian superstar’s contract after he refused to cooperate with an investigation into an employee’s allegation that he sexually harassed her during a 2016 promotional tour in New York.

Nike terminated its relationship with the athlete because he refused to cooperate with a good faith investigation into credible allegations of employee misconduct, the company said.

Hilary Crane,

Nike’s general counsel, answered questions from the magazine.

Neymar, whose full name is Neymar da Silva Santos Jr, denies the allegations of sexual assault. On Friday, he said Nike’s legal department improperly and irresponsibly discussed the reason for terminating the endorsement contract. Neymar stated that the deal was terminated for commercial reasons.

I really don’t understand how a reputable company can misrepresent a business relationship that is documented, Neymar wrote on Instagram, where he has more than 150 million followers. The claim that my contract was terminated because I did not cooperate in good faith with the investigation is an absurd lie, he wrote.

A Nike spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company’s statement.

In a statement on Thursday, Nike confirmed the magazine’s report on the incident: The employee said the sexual assault occurred in 2016, she filed a complaint in 2018, Nike launched an investigation in 2019 and ended her relationship with Neymar in 2020 because he refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Nike said it was very concerned about the employee’s statement. The research was inconclusive, according to Nike. We continue to respect the confidentiality of this employee and also recognize that this has been a long and difficult experience for her.

Nike has hired law firm Cooley LLP to conduct an independent investigation into the allegation in 2019, the Journal reports. Cooley’s lawyers have interviewed witnesses, including Nike employees, according to the Journal. Neymar’s representatives denied the woman’s story during Cooley’s investigation, but the athlete himself declined to be interviewed by Nike investigators, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the investigation and documents.

Neymar wrote on Instagram on Friday that Nike had not informed him of the incident, despite travel, campaigns and recording sessions in 2018 and 2019. I didn’t get a chance to defend myself, he added. That person, the employee, was not protected. I, a sponsored athlete, was not protected.

Neymar’s father, Neymar senior, told Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo that Nike was trying to blackmail his son. We were surprised by what happened in 2016 that no one remembers. It’s all very strange now, the paper quotes Neymar senior as saying. Neymar doesn’t even know the girl. This, of course, came from Nike after we left.

If Nike wants to extort, let’s attack Nike, he added.

A Nike spokesman declined to comment on Neymar Sr.’s remarks.

Neymar (in blue) appeared with his father at the 2019 charity football match in Sao Paulo.

Photo:

Miguel Chincariol/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Several of Neymar’s sponsors, including Puma SE, PokerStars and Epic Games Inc, makers of the video game Fortnite, declined to comment on the matter. Neymar has been friends with Red Bull since 2010. It is up to the state authorities to establish the facts behind these very serious allegations, said a spokesman for energy drink manufacturer Red Bull GmbH.

Neymar’s team, Paris Saint-Germain, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday. The situation has put the French club in a quandary between its highest paid player and Nike, a sponsor the club has had a relationship with for decades.

Ironically, I will continue to leave my mark on the chest of the brand that betrayed me, Neymar wrote on Instagram.

PSG has been one of Nike’s most prominent owners in football since the 1990s and recently extended his contract until 2019, a year after allegations against Neymar surfaced within Nike. The current contract runs until 2032.

Even in a crowded market, Nike’s approach in Paris stands out. In recent years, Nike has tried to position the club not only in the world of sportswear, but also as a lifestyle brand. The PSG jersey has been worn by the likes of Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Beyonce, while the team itself plays its prestigious Champions League matches in Nike Jordan Brand jerseys.

Neymar, with his global appeal and huge fan base, was the perfect ambassador for Cross Talk. When he signed a contract extension until 2025 in Paris earlier this month, the club, which is backed by a division of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, partially tied its own identity to the 29-year-old.

The first factor is luck, said Neymar, who is also currently featured in advertising campaigns for Qatar Airways and Qatar National Bank. The joy of being part of this team, the team, Paris Saint-Germain, the club.

Neymar is currently in Brazil for a training camp with the national team ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

Email Joshua Robinson at [email protected] and Khadija Safdar at [email protected]

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