Sport is ‘floating on a sea of high-carbon sponsorship’ with soccer top of the league for deals with car makers, airlines and fossil fuel companies, according to a study published this week.
Despite sports federations and clubs pledging action on mitigating climate change, the report entitled Sweat Not Oil identifies 250 prominent partnerships with high-carbon firms.
“It makes the crisis worse by normalising high-carbon, polluting lifestyles, and reducing the pressure for climate action,” report co-author Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute, said.
“Tobacco advertising was ended to protect people’s health. Now it’s time for sport to end sponsorship from major polluters for the health of people and the planet.”
The report says high-carbon sponsorship has become the “new tobacco” in sports after deals with cigarette firms disappeared in the 1990s because of public health concerns.
It says the automotive sector is now the most prominent partner in sports with 199 deals identified and an estimated 64% of car companies’ sponsorship budget dedicated to sports.
Soccer is the sport most targeted by high-carbon sponsors with 57 deals, from kit sponsors to stadium naming rights. Russian fossil fuel giant Gazprom sponsors the UEFA Champions League while world governing body FIFA lists Hyundai and Qatar Airways amongst its partners.
Twenty-five tennis events, according to the report, have deals with high-carbon firms including this year’s Australian Open where prominent courtside branding featured car maker Kia, airline Emirates and oil and gas producer Santos.
The report, published by the New Weather Institute think tank, climate charity Possible and the Rapid Transition Alliance, also highlights British-owned multinational chemical company Ineos’s backing of cycling and sailing — sports perceived as being environmentally friendly.
It says the carmaker Toyota was the most active sponsor with 31 deals, followed by airline Emirates with 29.
Simms said polluting industries were using sports partnerships to improve their public profile.
“This is ‘sports-wash’ – when heavily polluting industries sponsor sport to appear as friends of healthy activity, when in fact they’re pumping lethal pollution into the air that athletes breathe, and wrecking the climate sport depends on,” he said.
Responding to the report, an Ineos spokesperson said its leadership on sustainability had been recognised by Ecovadis, a world renowned sustainability ratings agency.
“Audits of Ineos on environment, ethics, labour and human rights, and sustainable procurement placed it in the top 4% of 65,000 companies rated,” they said.
The report says sport needs to “up its game”.
“Clubs, competitions and institutions need to take their climate commitments seriously,” it said, calling on the Olympics to exclude federations that are not carbon zero by 2030.