Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley accused of profiteering over coronavirus lockdown

A Sports Direct store in Norwich. Photograph: Archant.

A Sports Direct store in Norwich. Photograph: Archant. - Credit: Archant

Sports Direct has hiked prices by more than 50% on some sports equipment in the wake of a coronavirus lockdown, leading to accusations boss Mike Ashley is profiteering.

The firm has sent a document to staff showing a number of products that can be used in the home for exercise should have price rises applied.

Because the company operates a system of having 'ticket' prices, followed by 'reduced' stickers, it can be unclear what price a product was ever sold at.

Pricing documents - seen by the PA news agency - show that an Everlast 4kg kettle bell has gone up from £9.99 to £14.99 - although the sticker will still say the 'original' ticket price was £19.99.

The cost of a 12kg kettle bell by Everlast, which is owned by Sports Direct's parent company Frasers Group, is now £39.99, up from £29.99.

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Other items include:

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- Everlast Soft Weight 4kg: Old price: £12 - New price: £16.99 - Price rise: 41%

- Everlast kettle bell 12kg: Old price: £29.99 - New price: £39.99 - Price rise: 33%

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- Londsale Fit Strike Bag: Old price: £51.99 - New price: £74.99 - Price rise: 44%

- Lonsdale skip rope: - black and pink: Old price: £2.99 - New price: £4.99 - Price rise: 67%

- Slazenger wooden bat - silver: Old price: £19.99 - New price £29.99 - Price rise: 50%

Slazenger, Lonsdale and several other well-known brands are owned by Frasers.

As stores remain closed during the lockdown it is likely to only impact online sales.

The Competition and Markets Authority, which has told companies not to hike prices, reminded businesses of their responsibilities.

A spokesperson said: 'We have already warned all traders not to exploit the current situation through unjustifiable prices.

'Our new Covid-19 taskforce is reviewing evidence of harmful sales or pricing practices, and we will do whatever is required to stop a small minority of businesses that may seek to exploit the present situation.'

The increased prices come as Frasers Group, which includes House of Fraser, Jack Wills, Evans Cycles and Sports Direct, among others, was forced into a U-turn over store openings.

Chris Wootton, chief finance officer of Frasers Group, said its Sports Direct and Evans Cycles stores would not open on Tuesday, after claiming the store was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit.

But after a public backlash the stores, along with Evans Cycles, were closed.

Stores will not reopen until 'given the go-ahead by the government', he clarified.

But over at Jack Wills, one member of staff said that workers are sitting in stores waiting for instructions.

One told PA: 'We feel like we're putting ourselves and others at risk by not staying at home like the government has told us to. I've got colleagues feeling frustrated and angry.

'We feel disrespected by Mike Ashley's decisions to try and keep the company trading. The lack of communication and plan when they knew this was likely is embarrassing.'

The retailer said it is contacting the government 'at all levels' in an attempt to get confirmation from the prime minister.

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