Businessman Toomas Annus says he is withdrawing all sports sponsorship activity, following an ERR investigative report which he says misleadingly linked him to a major ski doping case.
Annus says that the report, on ETV investigative show "Pealtnägija", which also appeared on ERR's Estonian news portal, maliciously linked him to ski doping activities of Estonian skiers.
Annus had already stopped supporting cross-country skiing in 2019, following revelations that several Estonian and other competitive skiers had been engaging in blood doping and also the use of banned performance-enhancing substances.
This now extends to all sports, in relation to his companies' sponsorship.
In an open letter to the media, Annus wrote that: "From 2021, neither I personally, nor [Annus' companies] Merko and Kapitel will support competitive sports in Estonia. I sincerely apologize to all our good friends and partners, who we had promised a total of approximately half a million euros in support for that year, and who had taken this into account."
Annus hit out at misdeeds by athletes being associated with sponsors and the reputational damage arising from that.
Annus provided €170,000 a year to the Estonian Ski Association (Eesti Suusaliit), ski Team Haanja and individual skiers directly, with Merko providing a further €30,000 per year.
This was in part because the ski association itself had not provided any direct support since 2015, he said, leaving him and other entrepreneurs, such as Raido Ränkel, in the case of clothing supplies, carrying the support can.
As to the ski doping allegations and convictions, which followed an Austrian police swoop on skiers at the February 2019 world championships in Seefeld, Austria, Annus said that one of the skiers caught up in the scandal, Karel Tammjärv, had already answered the question who was aware of the activity and who was not.
Annus said: "My name is not among [the list of those accused]. I confirmed this in a text message sent to the "Pealtnägija" journalist on January 25, that I was not aware of the use of sponsorship money to purchase doping services, but nevertheless on the morning of January 27, ERR produced an article with a misleading title and content related to doping. This news was then reproduced by almost all the media outlets, and even illuminated advertisements in urban areas."
Annus said that athletes human mistakes cannot be fully curbed by sponsors, adding he was disappointed in the Team Haanja revelations. Haanja members had allegedly directly used funds provided by Annus to purchase doping – basically extracting blood from an athlete, storing it and reintroducing to their blood system shortly before a competition – themselves.
"I have to endure media accusations and create the impression that Team Haanja's financial support also means my awareness of doping," he added.
Annus said he will continue to support cultural events to the extent he already had been doing.
Editor: Andrew Whyte