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Sports Direct throws down gauntlet to rival Decathlon

Sports Direct chief forecasts the pair will fight it out for global dominance over the next 10 years

The battle for leadership in international sports retail will be fought out between Sports Direct and French group Decathlon, Sports Direct chief executive Dave Forsey has forecast.

Sports Direct, which is already the UK market leader and has stores in eight European countries, is gearing up to take on Decathlon in its home market and shops will begin to open in the Paris area in April.

Forsey expects sports retail to be dominated by Sports Direct and Decathlon within a decade. He told Retail Week: “If you take a five- to 10-year view it will be us and Decathlon. We’ve got stores opening in France in the next month -we’re going up against them in their own backyard.”

France is the latest country Sports Direct aims to conquer as it seeks to emulate Decathlon’s global empire. Four stores are planned for the Paris area this year and it aims to enter all eurozone countries in the next five years.

Sports Direct is investing in developing brands in categories including tennis and squash as it prepares for the fight. Forsey said: “[Decathlon] are dominating across categories that we’re going into - running, outdoor, tennis and more abstract sports. That’s going to be the challenge in the next five to 10 years.”

He said the strength of Decathlon’s own brands was a key driver of its success and Sports Direct intended to make further brand acquisitions in various sports - he pinpointed golf as an example. Sports Direct will also take on Decathlon in Asia as it plans to re-enter China in the next five years. The French retailer already operates there.

Sports Direct originally detailed plans to enter China in 2008 in partnership with Chinese sportswear retailer ITAT. Stores within stores were planned, but the deal stalled when ITAT was acquired and Sports Direct had to write off £3.6m of stock that had been manufactured and supplied to the region.

Forsey said: “It’s a market with challenges as well as magnificent opportunities so you’d be ridiculous not to [go back into China].

“The execution was brilliant, it was just the choice of partner. We’ll take a different approach and different partner this time.”

Decathlon has 500 stores in 16 countries, according to Planet Retail, and generated global sales of $9bn in its most recent financial year. Last year Sports Direct’s sales were £1.45bn.

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