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2 Top Olympic Sports Lose Major Sponsors

By RAF CASERT

BRUSSELS (AP) â¿¿ Two major Olympic sports â¿¿ track and field and speedskating â¿¿ have lost key sponsors in the midst of a global economic slump.

The South Korean electronics giant Samsung is cutting ties with track and field's Diamond League series of top meets. The company's decision comes on short notice following last summer's London Olympics.

The International Skating Union also must begin looking for a major sponsor. The Dutch energy supplier Essent said it will end its longstanding backing of speedskating after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

"To be honest, it is not easy," ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta told The Associated Press. "The international market is not in the very best condition. One has to admit, there is some problem. We will have to pay attention to what to do."

Soccer still has money-making capability in hard times. Manchester United proved that over the weekend when it clinched a major eight-year sponsorship deal with the insurance firm Aon estimated at $230 million. But annual sponsorship commitments like Samsung or Essent are counted in a few million dollars annually. That, however, doesn't make the income any less essential.

The ISU was fortunate in that Essent gave it a full year's warning that it was ending a 16-year relationship.

"Of course, we were not on the market (before) looking for another sponsor," Cinquanta said.

Europe is a prime market for both track and speedskating but the continent has been hit for the past three years by a government-debt crisis that has pushed many nations into recession and high unemployment as companies struggle to make ends meet.

Often sponsorship is an obvious cost-cutting division, making the search for new sponsors in a bad economic climate even tougher. That's especially true for a niche sport like speedskating, which can count on global attention only when the Winter Olympics come around every four years.

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