Worries for France's Le Coq Sportif ahead of Paris Olympics

Shares in the group's holding company have been suspended after it failed to publish financial results (Philippe LOPEZ)
Shares in the group's holding company have been suspended after it failed to publish financial results (Philippe LOPEZ)

Loss-making French sportswear brand Le Coq Sportif faces fresh doubts about its finances and operations just as it should be delivering around 370,000 items of clothing and equipment for the Paris Olympics.

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

On Monday, shares in Le Coq's Swiss holding company Airesis were suspended on the Swiss stock exchange after it missed a deadline to publish its 2023 financial results, having already delayed issuing them in April.

The group made no comment publicly about the suspension, only saying in April that extra time had been needed to prepare its figures "pending various items of information and their verification".

Known for its cockerel logo that has adorned the shirts of French sports teams for more than a century, Le Coq needed a 10-million-euro ($10.8 million) state-backed loan at the start of last year as losses widened.

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

"We're in the final phase of delivery and production... all the (sports) federations will get their deliveries, before the Games obviously," a spokesperson for the company told AFP on Tuesday.

The company acknowledged that "there have been some delays in paying suppliers".

The head of the French Olympic Committee, David Lappartient, who recently visited the company to check on deliveries "sport by sport", told reporters last Thursday that there were "a few delays" for some federations.

"It's a little bit tight but it's ok and we were reassured by this visit," he added.

Another French company with a crucial role at the Paris Olympics, IT and cybersecurity supplier Atos, has also hit major financial problems, with the French state looking to nationalise its strategic operations.

- Plan B? -

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

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

The value of its shares has roughly halved over the last four years in a decline accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis and high energy prices caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"There's been panic for the last few weeks. Everyone is looking for a Plan B to avoid a disaster," an official in the French Olympic movement told AFP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "They're very worried."

"We didn't understand when they won the contract," another official said, again on condition of anonymity. "Everyone knew when they got it that they weren't in great shape."

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

The company's heyday was in the 1950s to 1970s, helping forge a retro image that appeals to fans of its footwear and clothing.

It manufactured the first yellow jerseys for the Tour de France, made the shirts for the legendary Ajax football team of the 1970s, as well as the Argentinian team starring Diego Maradona that won the 1986 World Cup.

After enduring decades of financial problems from the 1990s, its takeover in 2005 by Airesis, run by Franco-Swiss businessman Marc-Henri Beausire, offered the group a new lease of life.

It renewed its links with the Tour de France and signed deals to supply the French top-flight football club Saint-Etienne and the national rugby team.

In 2022, it began work on extending the factory at its historic headquarters in Romilly-sur-Seine where the outfits for the French Olympic and Paralympic teams are being made, according to the Airesis annual report.

Although some sports such as judo and cycling have received their kit, an official in a French sports federation that was still waiting said the delay was frustrating.

"It's an additional logistical issue to manage at the last-minute and honestly we've got other things to worry about at this time," he said on condition of anonymity.