Neymar hits back at Nike over sexual-assault investigation

(Reuters) — Brazilian soccer player Neymar hit back at sportswear maker Nike Inc (NKE.N) on Friday, saying the company’s statement that it terminated an endorsement deal because he refused to cooperate with an investigation into the alleged sexual assault of a Nike employee was “an absurd lie”.

In a story first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Nike – which had Neymar on a long-term contract – said it terminated the deal last year after an employee came forward with what it said were “credible” allegations against the player.

Neymar, who plays for Paris St Germain, denies the allegations and said he did not know the employee in question.

The incident allegedly took place in 2016 but the employee initially requested to keep the matter confidential and Nike only opened its investigation in 2019 after the woman expressed an interest in legal action, according to a Nike statement.

Nike said it had ended its relationship with Neymar because “the athlete refused to cooperate in a good faith investigation of credible allegations of wrongdoing by an employee”.

Neymar, responding on Instagram, said: “I was not given the opportunity to defend myself” and “I’ve never had any kind of relationship or approach from this person. I didn’t even have a chance to talk to her, to know the real reasons for her pain. That person, an employee, was not protected. I, a sponsored athlete, was not protected.”

Nike did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Neymar’s statement.

“I really don’t understand how a serious company can distort a business relationship that is supported by documents. Written words cannot be modified. They are very clear,” Neymar added.

“Ever since I was 13 years old, when I signed my first contract, I was always warned: don’t talk about your Agreements. Agreements are confidential! Contradict this rule and state that my contract was terminated because I did not contribute in good faith to an investigation, is an absurd lie.”

Neymar wrote he had been advised not to say more about the deal but a separate statement sent by his spokeswoman for Neymar Sport E Marketing Ltda, the company established in his name, criticized Nike’s corporate governance.

It said statements from Nike’s counsel were made “improperly and irresponsibly” and hinted the player would reveal more about the case at a future date.

“The appropriate measures are already being adopted and soon the real reasons shall be revealed and the facts clarified,” the statement said.

The dispute is the latest to beset the 29-year-old former Santos and Barcelona striker’s career, which has been punctuated with scandals both on and off the field, from criticizing referees, suing his former club, clashing with fans, and even abusing his own coach while at Santos. He was also accused of rape in a Paris hotel in June 2019, although Neymar said the encounter with the woman, a Brazilian model, was consensual and he accused her of attempting to extort him. Brazilian authorities dropped that investigation against Neymar, citing lack of evidence, and later charged the model with slander, extortion and procedural fraud. The slander and extortion charges were dismissed in 2019 and she was acquitted of the fraud charge in 2020.