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CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman has plunged his company into crisis with an offensive two-word tweet, one which has caused title sponsor Reebok to announce the end of its long-standing association with CrossFit and led a series of athletes and gyms denounce and disown the brand.

Glassman was responding to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tweeted: “Racism and discrimination are critical public health issues that demand an urgent response, wherever they occur #BlackLivesMatter.”

He replied: “It’s FLOYD-19”, in reference to George Floyd, whose death in the custody of Minneapolis police has sparked worldwide protests, and which is a play on the Covid-19 disease. He later apologised.

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Reebok’s initial sponsorship deal in 2010 was a major boost for the brand, vastly inflating prize money for the CrossFit Games the following year to help establish it as a significant annual event televised by ESPN. It was also seen as a major step for Reebok as it looked to reposition itself from traditional sports like tennis and basketball to a more fitness-focused brand. However, the company has revealed it will bring its decade-long sponsorship of CrossFit to an end when its current contract runs out at the end of the year.

“Recently, we have been in discussions regarding a new agreement, however, in light of recent events, we have made the decision to end our partnership with CrossFit HQ,” Reebok said in a statement on Sunday.

A four-time winner of the CrossFit Games, Rich Froning, was among a number of athletes to condemn Glassman or disown the brand entirely. Froning posted a statement to his 1.4m Instagram followers writing that Glassman’s tweet “made it impossible to stay loyal to leadership who make callous statements that alienate and divide in a time when unity is needed”.

Glassman co-founded CrossFit in 2000 with his then-wife Lauren Jenai in Santa Cruz, California. He bought Jenai’s share for $16m ​(£12.7m) in 2015 following their divorce. The brand has been licensed to 13,000 gyms around the world and generates around $4bn (£3.2bn) in annual revenue.

Hundreds of affiliate gyms have announced they will be rebranding following Glassman’s tweet, with stories suggesting it is the tip of an iceberg of ill-judged leadership. Rocket CrossFit in Seattle said it would be changing its name to Rocket Community Fitness, and published a letter to CrossFit’s chief advisor Brian Mulvaney which said: “The absence of real leadership didn’t matter much when the world wasn’t in crisis. But it matters now, a lot.”

Glassman said in a statement: “I, CrossFit HQ, and the CrossFit community will not stand for racism. I made a mistake by the words I chose yesterday. My heart is deeply saddened by the pain it has caused. It was a mistake, not racist but a mistake. Floyd is a hero in the black community and not just a victim. I should have been sensitive to that and wasn’t. I apologise for that.

“I was trying to stick it to the @IHME_UW [Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation] for their invalidated models resulting in needless, economy-wrecking, life-wrecking lockdown, and when I saw they were announcing modelling a solution to our racial crisis, I was incredulous, angry, and overly emotional. Involving George Floyd’s name in that effort was wrong.”

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