Life is hard for retailers. But Sports Direct is in a crisis of Ashley’s own making

Government action is needed to preserve Britain’s high streets. But no law can protect a company from unrestrained ambition

Even by Mike Ashley’s standards, Sport’s Direct’s annual results statement on Friday was an extraordinary performance. The idiosyncratic billionaire’s comments included expressing regret about buying House of Fraser last year due to its “terminal” problems; urging the City regulator to offer voluntary drugs tests to the chief executives of listed businesses; revealing that none of the big four auditors are able or willing to work with Sports Direct; and railing at length over the circumstances of his company’s failed bid for control of Debenhams. Oh, and there will be no profit guidance for next year.

The coup de grace, the show-stopper, came at the end: an unresolved €674m (£605m) tax bill from the Belgian authorities. The final paragraph of the results came out of the blue and will almost certainly trigger a punitive response from investors on Monday and, in the medium term, an attempt to punish the company’s board.

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