RETAILER Sports Direct remains on course to become the “Selfridges of sport”, despite investor unrest over a senior management figure, according to founder Mike Ashley.

The Newcastle United owner says the chain “remains optimistic”, with earnings growth expected to be five per cent to 15 per cent ahead of last year and the performance of new stores exceeding expectations.

The stance contrasts sharply to the company’s warning in July, when it revealed annual profits had more than halved after it was left exposed by the pound's plunge following the Brexit vote.

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However, speaking ahead of an annual general meeting, Mr Ashley said: “We remain fully focused on our goal of moving our core business towards the 'Selfridges' of sport in order to further strengthen our proposition and drive long-term profitability.”

Mr Ashley’s upbeat outlook came as company chairman Keith Hellawell escaped a full-blown investor revolt after the majority of independent shareholders backed his re-election.

Despite mounting criticism of his stewardship at the retailer, the former West Yorkshire Police chief constable scraped a majority backing at the company's annual general meeting today (Wednesday, Seotenber 6), with 53 per cent supporting his re-appointment.

Mr Hellawell had pledged to step down if he didn't receive the support of a majority of independent shareholders, after coming under pressure for not reining in Mr Ashley over claims of “Victorian” working conditions at the company.

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