Soccer-Nike says ended Neymar deal after non-cooperation in sexual-assault probe

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FILE PHOTO: Ligue 1 - Brest v Paris St Germain
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By Ismail Shakil and Andrew Downie

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Nike Inc said on Thursday it ended its partnership with Brazilian soccer star Neymar last year because he refused to cooperate in an investigation into sexual assault allegations leveled against him by a Nike employee.

Neymar, who currently plays for Paris St Germain, denies the allegations, his spokeswoman said in a statement.

The world's largest sportswear maker said in a statement it viewed the allegations about an incident in 2016 as "credible" but also said an independent investigation it commissioned was inconclusive.

"No single set of facts emerged that would enable us to speak substantively on the matter. It would be inappropriate for Nike to make an accusatory statement without being able to provide supporting facts," the statement said.

Neymar's spokeswoman said the athlete would vigorously defend himself if any claim is presented, describing the allegations as baseless and adding that the endorsement deal ended for commercial reasons.

"It is very strange a case that was supposed to have happened in 2016, with allegations by a Nike employee, come to light only at that moment," her statement said.

The statements follow a Wall Street Journal report https://www.wsj.com/articles/nike-split-with-neymar-amid-sexual-assault-probe-11622159616?mod=hp_lead_pos1 about the investigation. Nike had previously not publicly given a reason for terminating the deal.

Nike said a female employee officially reported the incident to the company in 2018, coming forward in an internal forum. While Nike was prepared to investigate at that time it respected her request to keep the matter confidential and did not investigate until she expressed an interest in 2019 in legally pursuing the matter, its statement said.

Neymar, the world's most expensive soccer player, partnered with Puma in September. The sportswear company declined to comment when asked by Reuters if the allegations affected the partnership.

He had been signed with Nike for 15 years when the deal ended. The contract was terminated with eight years remaining, the Journal said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Neymar was separately accused of rape in a Paris hotel in June 2019. Neymar has said the encounter with the woman, a Brazilian model, was consensual and 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.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru, Andrew Downie in Sao Paulo and Richa Naidu in Chicago; additional reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Edwina Gibbs)

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