Covid-19: Mike Ashley issues public apology, offers fleet to key workforces

Retail mogul Mike Ashley has issued a public apology following his personal actions and the behaviour of his Frasers Group company.

In a highly unusual move, the boss of the retail group formerly known as Sports Direct International published an open letter to say emails sent by the business to his staff and the government, this week, “were ill-judged and poorly timed”.

He was referring to messaging sent by Frasers Group, on Monday, in a direct response to the government’s decision to close down all ‘non-essential’ shops to help slow down the spread of the escalating Covid-19 coronavirus in the UK. The business pressured the government for answers on whether its Sports Direct and Evans Cycles arms represented vital products and services during these times.

Frasers Group also sent a letter to its staff, seen by the Press Association, within 30 minutes of prime minister Boris Johnson’s public address. In it, the company said some of its stores would remain open, adding: “There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.”

Although bicycle retailers are included on the government’s list of ‘essential’ retailers during the current health emergency, sports equipment and the general casualwear associated with Sports Direct is not. Ashley was effectively placing his staff on the list of keyworkers identified to keep working during this pandemic.

In today’s letter, Ashley said: “Given what has taken place over the last few days, I thought it was necessary to address and apologise for much of what has been reported across various media outlets regarding my personal actions and those of the Frasers Group business.

“Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the government as to whether we should keep some of our stores open; we would never have acted against their advice. In hindsight, our emails to the government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with.”

He added: “On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public on this was poor.”

In response, Ashley has offered up it entire fleet of lorries to the NHS, if required, or to any keyworker groups that might find use for them in these unprecedented times of crisis.

“I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days,” he added.

“We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future.”

Prior to today’s apology, Frasers Group had already decided to shutter its shops temporarily in accordance with government advice.