Nike on Tuesday issued a strong denial of Internet rumours that it forced Chinese athletics hero Liu Xiang to pull out of the Olympics, adding it had asked authorities to investigate the posting.
"The posting is a malicious rumour, and has not only misled netizens, but also seriously damages the company's reputation," Nike, one of Liu's major sponsors, said in a statement emailed to AFP.
"We have immediately asked relevant government departments to investigate those that started the rumour."
A person claiming to be close to Nike posted a long article on the Internet shortly after Liu dramatically pulled out of the 110m hurdles race on Monday due to a foot injury, saying the US sporting firm had forced him to do so.
The posting claimed Liu -- a marketing phenomenon in China and its biggest hope for men's athletics gold in Beijing -- had recovered following an earlier injury, but had not regained enough fitness to win the Olympic title.
As such, it went on, he was unlikely to defend the title he won at the 2004 Athens Games.
"If Liu Xiang did not win the competition (or even win a medal), his value would definitely drop enormously, and we could never make a return on Liu's huge fees," the posting claimed.
The anonymous person said Nike therefore decided to force Liu to pull out of the race, feigning injury.
"That would preserve Liu Xiang's face, and as his sponsors, we would not make too many losses," the posting said.
Nike's European spokesman, Massimo Giunco, who is in Beijing for the Games, said the company had responded to a rumour by an anonymous person because the allegations had been posted on a popular Chinese website.
It is not the first time Nike has been the subject of rumours and speculation over its influence on a major sporting event.
The sports giant was accused of forcing Brazil to field football superstar Ronaldo in the 1998 World Cup final against France even though he had suffered a mysterious fit hours before the game.
When France won the final Nike was caught up in angry recriminations linked to its huge sponsorship contract with Brazil, although it was later cleared of any wrongdoing by a Brazilian parliamentary commission.