WASHINGTON, United States, Oct 11 – Nike said on Friday it plans to shut down its Oregon Project training group after top athletics coach Alberto Salazar was banned for four years for doping.
Salazar, best known for coaching Britain’s four-time Olympic champion Mo Farah, was last week handed a four-year suspension by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for a catalogue of drugs violations.
The US sportswear giant had initially backed Salazar’s plans to appeal against the decision after the 61-year-old Cuban-born American denied the allegations.
But in a memo to staff, Nike CEO Mark Parker said the project was being terminated because of the scandal.
“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,” Parker said.
“I have therefore made the decision to wind down the Oregon Project.”
Parker said however that Nike would still support Salazar in his appeal.
“A four-year suspension for someone who acted in good faith is wrong,” said Parker in the memo, adding that “the panel found there was no orchestrated doping, no finding that performance enhancing drugs have ever been used on Oregon Project athletes and went out of its way to note Alberto’s desire to follow all rules”.
However, he admitted that “Alberto can no longer coach while the appeal is pending”.
Athletes from the Oregon Project won three gold medals at the World Athletics Championships this month. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands won the women’s 1500 metres and 10,000 while Donavan Brazier of the US took the men’s 800m gold. There is no suggestion either athlete has been involved in doping.
Nike’s decision to shut down the project came after athletes including US runner Kara Goucher, who was coached by Salazar from 2004 to 2011 and provided key evidence in the case against him, told the BBC Nike could not justify keeping it open.
“It (NOP) has to go,” Goucher said.
“If I was Nike I’d be bringing in some new coaches and move on from this Oregon Project, because clearly it had principles not in line with clean sport and we have to just start over.”
Jeffrey Brown, a Texas endocrinologist who treated many of Salazar’s athletes at the Oregon training hub in Portland, was also suspended for four years.