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Newcastle owner's business performs u-turn in the wake of criticism for staying open

Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct stores will not reopen until ‘given the go-ahead by the Government’.

 Mike Ashley (file pic).
Mike Ashley (file pic).
Image: AFP via Getty Images

Updated at 09.54

SPORTS DIRECT has said it will close its stores in a major u-turn after initially calling for its workers to continue selling sports and fitness equipment in the face of coronavirus.

Chris Wootton, chief finance officer of owner Frasers Group, said its Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores will not open on Tuesday.

He said in a “clarification” that they will remain shut, despite stating that government policy “excludes bicycle shops from closure”.

Stores will not reopen until “given the go-ahead by the Government”, he added.

The retailer said it is contacting the Government “at all levels” in an attempt to get confirmation from the Prime Minister.

It comes after politicians hit out at the business for its plan to keep stores open after Boris Johnson ordered non-essential shops to close, with Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery telling company majority owner Mike Ashley to “take some responsibility” and “shut up shop”.

The group wrote to all workers within 30 minutes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to shut down non-essential retailers, telling them its position selling sporting and fitness equipment made it a vital asset during a national shutdown.

In the original letter, Mr Wootton said: “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.

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“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).”

Labour MP Jess Phillips also criticised the appeal to keep stores open, tweeting: “Massive mugs notwithstanding there is nothing people cannot live without in Sports Direct.”

Rival retailers such as JD Sports have confirmed that stores will remain shut in the face of the virus, until Government guidance changes.

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