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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Football kit 'price fixing' inquiry
Football strips
Manchester United is one of the companies accused
Eleven firms are being investigated over allegations that they fixed the price of Umbro replica football kits, the Office of Fair Trading said on Thursday.

The UK trading standards watchdog said the following firms were suspects: Umbro, JJB Sports, John David Sports, Sports Soccer, Allsports, Blacks Leisure Group, Manchester United, Debenhams, Florence Clothiers (trading as Sportsconnection), Sportsretail and the Football Association.

The OFT has written to the companies, inviting them to respond with written and oral representations over the allegations.

Once we have seen the precise allegations made, we will, of course, co-operate fully

Man Utd
Under "Rule 14" of investigation regulations, the OFT must give companies seven weeks to make written responses and nine weeks to make oral responses. It will make its final decision in the Autumn.

Right to reply

The OFT said it wrote to the companies on Thursday setting out why it proposed to find that they "entered into a number of agreements to fix the price of football kits manufactured and supplied by Umbro, infringing Chapter I of the Competition Act 1998".

If they are found guilty of price-fixing they could be fined 10% of their annual UK turnover.

The investigation began in June last year, after a retailer complained to the OFT.

A typical price for an adult replica shirt is about 40, and a junior shirt around 30.

Very surprised

In a statement, Manchester United said it had not been contacted by the OFT over the price-fixing allegations and was "very surprised" to be named among the 11 companies.

"Once we have seen the precise allegations made, we will, of course, co-operate fully with the OFT to resolve this situation," it said.

Umbro said it was co-operating fully with the inquiry.

The Football Association said it had publicly "acknowledged breaches and made it clear that it had been assisting the OFT for several months."

The FA added that it would be taking the opportunity to make representations to the OFT regarding the allegations.

For that reason, it would be inappropriate to "comment until after this has taken place," the statement said.

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"Fans spend more than 200 million per year on replica kits"
The BBC's Rebecca Pike
"If they do find them guilty, there's quite a serious price to pay"
See also:

01 May 02 | Business
Inquiry into toy 'price fixing'
05 Sep 01 | Business
Watchdogs probe soccer kit market
20 Jun 01 | Business
Clampdown on price fixers unveiled
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