Sports Direct to be 'Selfridges of sport', claims Mike Ashley

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Mike Ashley has said Sports Direct is on track to become the "Selfridges of sport" ahead of an AGM that could see the firm's chairman toppled as shareholder frustration at the retailer mounts.

In a trading update, the chain said the outlook "remains optimistic", with earnings growth expected to be 5% to 15% ahead of last year and the performance of its "new generation flagship stores" exceeding expectations.

Mr Ashley said: "We remain fully focused on our strategic goal of moving our core business towards the 'Selfridges' of sport in order to further strengthen our proposition and drive long-term profitability."

Keith Hellawell has pledged to step down if he does not receive the support of a majority of independent shareholders
Keith Hellawell has pledged to step down if he does not receive the support of a majority of independent shareholders (Joe Giddens/PA)

His comments come as pressure mounts on chairman Keith Hellawell, with a number of investors in the retailer publicly voicing their opposition to his re-election ahead of a crunch vote at today's annual general meeting.

The former West Yorkshire Police chief constable and government drugs tsar has presided over a long list of scandals and controversies at the chain, and has pledged to step down if he does not receive the support of a majority of independent shareholders.

In January, Mr Hellawell saw 54% of independent shareholders vote against his reappointment and was only saved by Mr Ashley, who owns 55% of the company and whose backing meant he was re-elected with a total of 80.92% of votes cast.

Hermes Investment Management, Royal London Asset Management and Standard Life Aberdeen are among the investors to say they intend to vote against the chairman's re-election.

As part of the trading update, Mr Ashley confirmed that Sports Direct now owns 100% of premium fashion chain Flannels.