MANILA: Global sportswear giant Nike has raced to protect its brand following homophobic remarks made by one of its superstar ambassadors.
Nike's long-time sponsorship of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was swiftly severed after he claimed that people in same-sex relationships were "worse than animals", Forbes reported.
Pacquiao, one of Southeast Asia's few sporting stars to achieve global success, is revered across much of Asia, particularly in his native Philippines, where he is running for a senate seat.
Nike is the sportswear market leader in the Philippines and also sponsors the nation's popular basketball team.
The company released a statement, saying it considered Pacquiao's comments to be "abhorrent" and that Nike "strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of standing up for the rights of the LGBT community".
Many Filipinos on social media had called for Nike to drop Pacquaio following his comments, which were made on a Philippines TV station. The boxer defended his remarks on Instagram, but later issued an apology.
The severing of ties appears to mark a change in how Nike manages athlete ambassadors, with Pacquaio seemingly the first dropped by the brand for offensive comments in the media rather than involvement in criminal activity. For example, Nike has cut ties in the past with sprinter Oscar Pistorius, Mashable reported.
Nike reportedly uses clauses on contracts with its global ambassadors which allow the company to cut ties if an athlete offends the public. Though Pacquaio has made anti-LGBT statements in the past, Nike has only now acted to end the relationship.
The move reflects wider efforts by brands in recent years to embrace the LGBT demographic. Nike has released an LGBT-inspired line each year to coincide with Pride Month since 2011. Adidas also used its Valentine's Day social media postings recently to promote its support of same sex relationships.
Pacquiao also has not been the sales boon the company had hoped for. Nike launched a line of Pacquiao-themed hoodies and T-shirts in 2015 but, according to Forbes, poor sales were expected to generate less than $1m in royalties this year.
Data sourced from Forbes, Mashable; additional content by Warc staff