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Monday, December 1
 
Clijsters out of Olympics in sponsor dispute

ESPN.com news services

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Kim Clijsters, the No. 2-ranked player in women's tennis, is pulling out of next summer's Athens Olympics because she will not be allowed to wear apparel from her own sponsor.

Kim Clijsters
Clijsters

In comments on her Web site, Clijsters said Monday she won't take part in the games because the Belgian Olympic Committee prohibits its athletes from wearing apparel not made by team sponsor Adidas.

Clijsters has a deal with the manufacturer Fila which stipulates she can only play in the company's clothing.

"I want to remain loyal to the people with whom I have closed a contract," said Clijsters, ranked second behind countrywoman Justine Henin-Hardenne in the world. "They were the only ones interested in me two years ago."

Although The Associated Press reported that the Belgian Olympic Committee has tried to negotiate with Clijsters, Fila and Adidas, Howe Burch, Fila's senior vice president of global communications and sports marketing, told ESPN.com he does not believe that is the case.

"To my knowledge, we have not been contacted by anyone from the Belgian Olympic Committee in trying to resolve this matter," said Burch, who would not comment on the company's specific contractual terms with Clijsters. "Something like this might be able to be resolved, but in the end it's going to be Kim's decision."

The International Olympic Committee's Belgian president, Jacques Rogge said he would not intervene in the matter.

"It is a question of solidarity that all athletes participating in the Olympic Games wear the same uniform. I feel sad to hear that Clijsters will not be in Athens, but she is still young and I am sure that as time passes, she will reflect on that decision," Rogge told television channel VTM.

"She will realise she missed a real opportunity to win a medal, but I respect her decision.

"No, I will not try to make her change her mind, that is not my role. The Belgian Olympic Committee and Kim are big enough to solve the matter between them."

Henin-Hardenne is already under contract to Adidas, which has sponsored the Belgian team since 1976.

Clijsters said she would play for Belgium in next year's Fed Cup because she wants "to keep Belgium in the World Group."

"The Belgian Olympic Committee sold their rights and their marks to Adidas and they certainly have benefited from that decision," Burch said. "I don't think it's fair to hold Kim to a different set of standards. I'm sure Adidas officials had their eyes wide open, in that they could have athletes compete wearing their competitor's products."

Apparel disputes are not new at the Olympics. On the victory stand at the 1992 Barcelona Games, Michael Jordan, who was under contract to Nike, and other U.S. players draped a U.S. flag over the Reebok logo of their basketball warmup suits.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com sports business reporter Darren Rovell was used in this report.




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