Coronavirus: Sports Direct confirms 'u-turn' closure of all stores after previously vowing to stay open

Sports Direct confirmed it will shut its shops after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered non-essential stores to close in an address to the nation which revealed stricter measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 2:03 pm

Management had previously justified staying open on the basis that selling fitness equipment made the company a vital asset during a national shutdown, according to an email seen by the PA news agency.

Mike Ashley's Frasers Group wrote to all workers within 30 minutes of the decision to shut down all non-essential retailers on Monday, March 23.

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Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery tweeted: "Who on earth does Mike Ashley think he is? He's prepared to endanger the life of his employees and the public at large."

The Wansbeck MP added that selling sports equipment "is not an essential service” and added: "Take some responsibility SHUT UP SHOP.”

But it was confirmed at around 8.30am on Tuesday, March 24 that the company will now not open its stores.

Earlier, Sports Direct finance chief Chris Wootton had written to staff and noted home fitness was the "number one trending topic on social media after coronavirus itself".

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley has been told to 'take some responsibiliy' by politicians. Picture: PA.

He added: "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."

Management justified keeping stores open on the basis that selling sporting and fitness equipment makes the company a vital asset during a national shutdown.

He said people could leave home for exercise once a day and banned public gatherings of more than two people.

A failure to follow the rules could see police dispersing gatherings and imposing fines, which Government officials said would start at £30.