LOS ANGELES • US sports equipment giant Nike on Wednesday axed Manny Pacquiao after he described gay couples as "worse than animals", slamming the Filipino boxer's remarks as "abhorrent".
A Nike statement said the company had severed its ties with Pacquiao, who triggered a firestorm of controversy with his comments to a Filipino broadcaster earlier this week.
"We find Manny Pacquiao's comments abhorrent," a Nike statement said. "Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community... we no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao."
The Nike endorsement, whose terms were not disclosed, was Pacquiao's most prominent sponsorship deal. Forbes.com magazine put his earnings for 2015 at US$160 million (S$225 million), including US$12 million from endorsements.
Nike's move was welcomed by gay rights campaigners in the Philippines yesterday.
Devout Christian Pacquiao, 37, who is running for a seat in his country's Senate, had issued an apology soon after the controversy erupted.
"I'm sorry for comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those I've hurt," he said in a video post on Instagram.
The eight-division world champion said he was not condemning homosexuals but was standing by his conservative Christian faith. "I love you all with the love of the Lord. I am praying for you," he added.
Pacquiao told television station TV5 earlier this week: "It's common sense. Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female.
"If men mate with men and women mate with women, they are worse than animals."
His comments were greeted with revulsion in the United States, where same-sex marriage is enshrined in law following a historic Supreme Court ruling.
Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in the National Basketball Association, dismissed Pacquiao as "bigoted".
"I lost all respect for you," he wrote on Twitter. "Bigoted people like you (& yes you are one) should never hold an office in politics."
Pacquiao's long-time rival Floyd Mayweather - who outclassed the Filipino in their money-spinning mega-fight last year - also took aim at the remarks.
"We should let people live their lives the way they want to live their lives. To each his own," he told TMZ Sports.
While homosexuality is not criminalised in the Philippines, gay marriage is outlawed due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church and 80 per cent of the country's 100 million people subscribe to the faith.