UK markets closed

Sports Direct's Mike Ashley 'deeply apologetic' for coronavirus blunder

Sports Direct announce store closures

LONDON (Reuters) - The billionaire boss of British retailer Sports Direct said he was "deeply apologetic" over the way his company handled the coronavirus emergency and wants to make amends by offering resources to the National Health Service (NHS).

After Britain announced on Monday it was going on lockdown the following day requiring all non-essential shops to close, Sports Direct, part of Frasers Group <FRAS.L>, said its stores should stay open, arguing that sports equipment was essential.

That prompted an angry response from government with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove telling BBC TV: “Sports Direct is not essential retail”. In an open letter published on Friday, Mike Ashley, the firm's founder and CEO, expressed regret.

"I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days," he said.

He said the retailer's intentions were only to seek clarity from the government as to whether Sports Direct should keep some of its stores open and insisted it would never have acted against government advice.

"In hindsight, our emails to the government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with. On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public on this was poor," Ashley said.

He said he has offered the group’s support to the NHS.

"We are poised and ready for when that offer is accepted, with our entire fleet of lorries at their disposal - to help deliver medical equipment and supplies. This offer is not limited to the NHS but all key workforces across the government. We will help wherever possible.”

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Kate Holton)