Olympics chief: Annus sponsorship withdrawal protest will cost sports dear

Construction magnate and Estonian Olympic Committee (EOC) head Urmas Sõõrumaa.
Construction magnate and Estonian Olympic Committee (EOC) head Urmas Sõõrumaa. Source: US Real Estate

President of Estonia's olympic committee Urmas Sõõrumaa has voiced his support for businessman Toomas Annus, following an ETV broadcast which, Annus says, implied he had been aware that sponsorship money he provided to skiers and a ski team was being misused for illegal doping purposes.

Sõõrumaa, himself also a major businessman with construction interests, said that the move may cost Estonian sports millions of euros in sponsor money. 

Annus withdrew his support for various Estonian sports in protest about the episode of "Pealtnägija", an investigative show, which aired earlier in the week on ETV, public broadcaster ERR's flagship TV channel. He also in effect called for the removal of presenter Mihkel Kärmas from the airwaves.

Urmsa Sõõrumaa said that the "Pealtnägija" segment left the impression that Annus was somehow informed about the use of doping by Estonian cross-country skiers, or even financed it.

While Annus had denied this via a text message sent to "Pealtnägija" producers, Sõõrumaa said that the impression was still made on the show for promotional reasons.

Sõõrumaa added that: "The false accusation by 'Pealtnagija' may cost Estonian sports millions of euros, as large sponsors of Estonian sports number less then ten, and there was a serious furor this week among those who have supported Estonian sports with great dedication for many long years,"

Sponsorship for sports as much concerns support for teams and athletes in terms of training, equipment etc. as it does for advertizing purposes.

Sõõrumaa said that the report had been false and expressed his gratitude for funding from Annus and two of his companies, Merko and Kapital, over the years, saying that the real implications of accusations after donating large sums to sports in good faith could only fully be grasped by wealthy businessmen like himself or Annus.

He also issued a plea for Annus to rethink his move.

Annus had reportedly already withdrawn his ski sponsorship in the wake of a major doping scandal which engulfed the skiing world after an Austrian police swoop at the world championships in Seefeld, nearly two years ago, but on Friday announced this would be extended to all sports.

Annus denies he knew that his funding was being used for doping – removing an athlete's blood and storing it, only to reintroduce it shortly before a competition, in order to give a performance boost – an illicit activity, and also for providing banned performance-enhancing substances.

The doping itself was facilitated by a notorious German "doping doctor", Mark Schmidt, recently sentenced to prison by a Munich court, and masterminded by ski coach Mati Alaver, who faced a ban from competition and a suspended prison sentence, issued by an Estonian court late in 2019.

Mihkel Kärmas denies that any claim or implication was made on the "Pealtnägija" episode that Annus had been aware of the doping activities and that his money had been utilized in its pursuit.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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