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Counterfeiting in the sports industry – an issue on the rise

Each year, World Anti-Counterfeiting Day (8 June) provides a suitable opportunity to raise awareness of the damaging and potentially dangerous consequences of counterfeiting. In 2016, the theme of the Global Anti-Counterfeiting Network’s main event, held in Paris, is ‘Fakes in the sports industries’. With the UEFA European Championship starting in June, the topic could not be more pertinent. However, football is far from being the only sport affected by this major and growing issue.

A study, released in September 2015 by the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), found that counterfeiting costs the European sports industry €492 million in annual sales. This is a shocking figure in itself, without taking into account the direct loss of 2,800 jobs and another €150 million in government revenue. According to the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI), the study was a ‘wake-up call for further action against counterfeit sporting goods’; the organization called for more effective legislation and increased cooperation between public and private authorities.

Apart from its economic implications, counterfeiting can present a real danger to consumers of sports products; the purchase of counterfeit bicycles is a prime example of that. A recent BBC documentary highlighted the risks of buying counterfeit bicycle parts on eBay. The story focused on mountain biker Matt Phillips, who required many months of physiotherapy after an accident caused by fake carbon handlebars he had purchased online. The handlebars, which were copies of FSA originals, snapped in three places while he was descending a hill.

What then can consumers do to protect themselves against such unfortunate incidents? The website of FESI’s new public awareness campaign, “Score the Real Thing”, provides some useful advice. Consumers are always recommended to buy from official retailers; lists of legitimate stockists of major brands can be found at www.brand-i.org along with a website checker to examine the legitimacy of individual retailers. Sites such as scamadviser.com are also advisable. Checking the spelling and grammar on the website and of the URL for typos and suspicious contact details (such as no telephone number, or e-mail addresses ending with @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, etc.) can also be good ways to detect counterfeit sites or products. Finally, price tends to be the most reliable indication as to the authenticity of a product. The general rule is – if a deal looks too good to be true, it most likely is.

What to do after encountering a counterfeit?

Citizens Advice consumer helpline (03454 04 05 06) offers advice on consumer issues in the UK; suspected counterfeit goods and sellers should be reported to them, or to Local Trading Standards offices.

If the purchased item had been believed to be genuine, but later turned out to be a possible counterfeit, the case can also be reported to Action Fraud.


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