Le Coq Sportif disaster strikes 2024 Paris Olympics, opening ceremony

Loss-making French sportswear brand Le Coq Sportif is facing fresh doubts about its finances and operations, just as it is due to supply around 370,000 pieces of clothing and equipment for the Paris Olympics.

The company, which was bought out of near-bankruptcy in 2005, is the main supplier for French athletes at the Paris Games, which begin in less than 60 days.

Shares in Le Coq’s Swiss holding company Airesis were suspended on the Swiss stock market on Monday after it missed a deadline to publish its 2023 financial results, having already delayed their release in April.

The company had revenue of more than $230 million in 2022, but ongoing operating costs further pushed the company into a difficult position.

The group has not publicly commented on the suspension, only saying in April that the extra time was needed to prepare its numbers “while they await various information and their verification”.

Le Coq, known for its rooster logo, which has graced the shirts of French sports teams for more than a century, needed a 10 million euro ($10.8 million) government loan early last year as losses mounted.

The country’s involvement reflected the group’s strategic importance to the July 26-August 11 Paris Olympics as a supplier to almost all but a handful of French sports federations, including football and athletics.

“We are in the final stages of delivery and production … all (sports) federations will get their deliveries, before the Games of course,” a company spokesman told AFP on Tuesday.

The company admitted that “there have been some delays in payments to suppliers”. The head of the French Olympic Committee, David Lappartient, who recently visited the company to check the delivery “sport by sport”, told reporters last Thursday that there had been “some delays” with some federations.

“It’s a bit tight, but it’s fine and this visit has reassured us,” he added.

Another French company with a key role in the Paris Olympics, information technology and cyber security supplier Atos, has also run into major financial difficulties, with the French state looking to nationalize its strategic operations.

Some in the French sports world have long questioned the decision to award the prestigious 2020 Olympics contract to Le Coq, which reported losses of around 10 million euros in the first half of 2023.

In 2022, he lost around four million euros, after losing 10 million euros the year before.

The value of its shares has roughly halved over the past four years due to a decline accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis and high energy prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“There has been panic for the past few weeks. Everyone is looking for a plan B to avoid a disaster,” a representative of the French Olympic movement told AFP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“They are very concerned.” “We didn’t understand when they got the contract,” said another official, who again spoke on condition of anonymity. “Everybody knew when they got him that they weren’t in great shape.”

Le Coq Sportif has returned for the first time in 50 years as a supplier to the French Olympic team at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

The company’s heyday was in the 1950s and 1970s, which helped create a retro image that attracted fans of its footwear and clothing.

It produced the first yellow jerseys for the Tour de France, produced shirts for the legendary Ajax football team from the 1970s, as well as for the Argentine team with Diego Maradona, which won the World Cup in 1986.

After decades of financial problems dating back to the 1990s, its takeover in 2005 by Airesis, led by Franco-Swiss businessman Marc-Henri Beausire, gave the group a new impetus.

It renewed its links with the Tour de France and signed contracts to supply French first-division football club Saint-Etienne and the national rugby team.

In 2022, it started work on expanding the factory at its historic headquarters in Romilly-sur-Seine, where equipment for the French Olympic and Paralympic teams is made, according to Airesis’ annual report.

Although some sports such as judo and cycling have received their equipment, a French sports federation official who is still waiting said the delay was frustrating.

“It’s an additional logistical problem that needs to be dealt with at the last minute, and frankly, we have other concerns right now,” he said on condition of anonymity.

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