News and Notes

Tennis Australia Ditches Fossil Fuel Sponsor as Aussie Olympic Committee Signs One; Only Artificial Snow at Beijing Olympics

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This is a busy week in sports, with the Australian Open concluding this weekend, and the Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremonies taking place next Friday.

That means it is also a busy time in Green-Sports world.

And that means it is also time for the first Green-Sports News & Notes column of 2022.

TENNIS AUSTRALIA PULLS OUT OF SPONSORSHIP DEAL WITH GAS COMPANY THANKS TO PRESSURE CAMPAIGN …

Who says grassroots public pressure by climate organizations doesn’t get results?

Tennis Australia, the sport’s governing body in the country and the host of the Australian Open, has backed out of its partnership with natural gas maker Santos only one year into a “multiyear” deal. The catalyst for the cancellation was a consistent campaign from activist groups that assailed the fossil fuel company for “sportswashing”.

Details of the agreement’s termination are unclear since neither party has made public comment. However, according to the The Guardian, executives at Tennis Australia confirmed that the decision to scuttle the deal took place more than two months ago. “Santos was a partner of AO2021, however they are no longer a partner now,” the organization told The Guardian.

Things were vastly different when the deal was announced at last year’s Australian Open. Tennis Australia said then that, “The Summer of Tennis events will provide a platform for Santos to showcase how natural gas is used in everyday life. Connecting with tennis at a grassroots level is also a priority”.

The company’s branding was omnipresent during the tournament: Its logo appeared courtside, ads promoting the jobs provided by the gas industry playing during broadcasts, and a “fueled by Santos” slogan appeared on the scoreboard.

Led by the climate activist nonprofit 350 Australia, the campaign compared sponsorships with fossil fuel giants to partnerships with “doctors promoting cigarettes in 1930”. While accusing Tennis Australia of allowing Santos to sportswash, Lucy Manne, 350 Australia’s CEO, also welcomed the deal’s end.

Lucy Manne (Photo credit: 350 Australia)

“Tennis Australia should be congratulated for ending their association with Santos,” Manne said in a statement. “[They] haven’t told us why this has occurred, and they may not, but regardless, this is a huge public benefit in terms of not having a big fossil fuel company’s brand splashed all over a major event. It’s really important we start to see our biggest, most loved sporting events move away from partnerships like those with Santos.”

It must be noted that Tennis Australia is a signatory to the UN Sports For Climate Action framework. And the Australian Open has, since 2014, been bedeviled by extreme heat and dangerous levels of polluted air, thanks to nearby wildfires.

Santos – which is in the midst of developing new gas projects in the Beetaloo Basin of the Northern Territories and elsewhere – still sponsors several major sporting events, including the cycling’s Tour Down Under. It is expected that the 350 Australia-led coalition will shift its focus to fracturing that partnership.

…JUST AS AUSTRALIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE ANNOUNCES PARTNERSHIP WITH MINING COMPANY LED BY CLIMATE DENIER

The Australia 350-led anti-Sportswashing coalition has a lot of work to do.

That is because Hancock Prospecting, a coal, gas, and iron mining company, was announced Friday as a sponsor of the Australian Olympic Team through 2026.

The Queensland Conservation Council reacted immediately upon hearing the news, calling for John Coates to step down as president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC). The council had previously written to the International Olympic Committee outlining its concerns about the games being associated with companies which contribute “to avoidable carbon emissions such as fossil fuel extraction”.

The AOC said that the deal encompasses the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, and the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics in February 2026. Brisbane, capital of Queensland, has been tabbed to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

“We are delighted to take the next step in our long-term support of Australia’s best athletes and become an official Australian Olympic Committee partner, an organization admirably independent of Government funding and aligned to our values at the Hancock Group,” said executive chairman Gina Rinehart. “We are so proud to help our great Olympians who are such inspirations, through their hard work, most do not really know how hard they work, dedication, focus and self-discipline, as they endeavor to represent our country to the best of their ability. The traits these role models show in my view, are important for us all, if we wish to succeed in life and business.”

Gina Rinehart (Photo credit: Jason Reed/Reuters)

Two-time Olympic race walker and EcoAthletes Champion Rhydian Cowley has a diametrically different view, saying that the deal undermines “the AOC’s sustainability action plan”.

“This is a disaster,” Queensland Conservation Council director Dave Copeman told The Guardian. “It’s such an ‘own goal’. It shows nothing is free from being up for sale.”

Rinehart has contributed $AUS10 million annually to the AOC and individual sports governing bodies, including Swimming Australia and Volleyball Australia.

“There’s a real question of how a couple of big checks to Swimming Australia and the AOC buys you out of a history of environmental devastation,” Copeman pointed out. “How the hell did they do this? What are they thinking?”

A spokesperson for the AOC said “Mr Coates has no intention of stepping down before the end of his term”, pointing out that the organization is a signatory to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework and the Sports Environment Alliance.

“We see no conflict between this sponsorship and the AOC’s commitment,” the AOC said in a statement. “We have set targets for ourselves as an organization to achieve climate neutrality. We are committed to embracing sustainability in our day-to-day operations, measuring progress, advocating, and educating with member sports.”

Many will differ with that view.

Hancock Prospecting recently applied to build one of the largest coal mines in Queensland in the Galilee basin. And Rinehart has previously been criticized for warning against climate change “propaganda” in education.

Hancock Prospecting hopes to build a coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin (Photo credit: Andrew Quilty/Greenpeace)

In a 2021 speech, she said she had once helped to convince students climate change was not human-induced, by organizing a talk at a school by climate skeptic Lord Christopher Monckton. Rinehart has also been an active financial supporter to climate skeptic groups and individuals.

GSB’s Take: It’s only January but we already have a strong nominee for ‘Sportswash of the Year’. The Guardian quoted AOC Chairman Coates as being proud of the organization being “independent of government. We neither receive nor seek federal funding. We are grateful to have the support of Gina Rinehart, Hancock Prospecting and all our partners to ensure we retain that independence.”

It says here that, if the cost of not requiring government funding is to partner with a climate change-denying executive chairman of a privately held fossil fuel company, the AOC needs to begin a course correction. Here’s a road map: 

1.    Follow the lead of Tennis Australia and scuttle a sponsorship deal (the AOC will thus have wrested the ‘fastest end to a sportswash’ title from Tennis Australia!). GSB is not naive; $AUS10 million is a lot of money. No question. That said, there have to be ways to…

2.   …Find other Australian magnates who are climate science-positive and show them the benefits of funding Australia’s best athletes,

3.   At the same time, open yourself up to accepting federal government funding. Will the government and the public be supportive? Well, you have to ask.

4.  Otherwise, get ready to hear from 350 Australia and its friends. And from Sport For Climate Action and/or Sport Environment Alliance.


ALL BEIJING OLYMPICS SNOW TO BE MANMADE…

The world’s most serious calamities, COVID-19 and climate change are impacting the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which open next Friday.

In response to the 25-month old global pandemic, the Chinese government has greatly curtailed the number of spectators allowed at the Games. International fans are prohibited and only those within China who are “selected” will be permitted to enter the venues.

And, in response to the impacts of human-caused climate change, Beijing 2022 organizers have been forced to use artificial snow for virtually 100 percent of the Games’ snow sports events. This is an unsurprising first in Winter Olympics history. After all, 80 percent of the snow at the Sochi 2014 Games was artificial; that number jumped to 90 percent four years later at Pyeonchang.

Artificial snow covers the Thaiwoo Ski Resort in Zhangjiakou, part of the Beijing Winter Olympics bubble (Photo credit: Andrea Verdelli/Bloomberg)

According to a January 21 story in Bloomberg News, the Beijing Olympics are the culmination of a six-year effort to “turn the Zhangjiakou [ski area] into China’s version of the Alps, creating an upscale winter holiday destination in the hopes of lifting an agricultural region out of poverty…Experts worry that the push to transform Zhangjiakou will worsen the region’s severe water scarcity, which ranks among the worst in the country. Over half of Zhangjiakou is ‘highly water stressed,’ according to China Water Risk, a Hong Kong-based environmental group, and the local water resource per capita is less than one fifth of China’s national average.”

And Beijing 2022 will be using a lot of water for snow-making — as much as 2 million cubic meters or enough to fill 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools, per Carmen de Jong, a geographer at the University of Strasbourg.

…FORESHADOWING FURTHER CHALLENGES FOR FUTURE WINTER GAMES SITES

Absent a dramatic turnaround that cuts global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and thus the impacts of climate change, we must expect that future Winter Olympics will have even greater challenges than Beijing 2022. So says Slippery Slopes, a report published Wednesday by Sport Ecology Group, Protect Our Winters, and Loughborough University in London.

The authors concluded that only 10 of the 21 sites used for the Winter Games since 1924 will have the “climate suitability” and snowfall levels necessary to successfully put on an Olympics by 2050. They also surmise that the IOC will have to consider different types of hosts venues, which will present new challenges: “They may have to resort to smaller, more remote venues, potentially resulting in a myriad of logistical hurdles, such as insufficient infrastructure, a lack of tourist amenities and lower levels of accessibility.”

Sunbathers enjoyed beach weather during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Per Slippery Slopes, the city is considered to be ‘not reliable’ as a 2050 venue due to climate change (Photo credit: Pascal Le Segretail/Getty Images)

SEYI SMITH, CANADIAN WINTER AND SUMMER OLYMPIAN, RUNNING FOR ELECTION TO IOC ATHLETES COMMISSION ON CLIMATE ACTION PLATFORM

Canada’s Seyi (“SHAY”) Smith is that rare Olympian who has participated in both the Winter (bobsled) and Summer (4×100 relay) Games.

The EcoAthletes Champion is daring to be different again, this time by running for the IOC’s Athletes Commission on a climate action platform. Only athletes at the Beijing Winter Games are eligible to cast a ballot, with voting taking place from now through February 16th at the dining halls in all three Olympic Villages.

Smith is a candidate for one of two open slots on the commission. He hopes to succeed iconic Canadian hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser. Her eight-year term ends with Beijing’s Games.

Per a January 12 CBC Sports story, Smith, who will be in Beijing as a Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) athlete mentor, sought out Wickenheiser’s advice.

“Hayley is huge and her name carries a lot of weight, and mine does not carry as much weight,” Smith told CBC. “She gave me some suggestions on the groundwork I need to do in the village. She gave me tips on how to be heard and how to make an impact.”

The crux of Smith’s message can be seen in this passage from his three-page campaign statement:

“There is no bigger issue the world and sport faces right now than climate change. As an Olympic winter athlete, I’ve seen natural bobsled courses where I trained at risk and worry about their future. As an Olympic summer athlete and sprinter, I, like you, watched the extreme heat that all athletes had to deal with this summer in Tokyo. I have studied sustainability and renewable energy technologies; I am a member of the IOC Sustainability and Legacy Commission, and I founded a not-for-profit organization to help grassroots sport events in Canada become greener. I call it ‘Racing to Zero’. I’m driven to contribute to anywhere that sport and climate change intersect and believe that we athletes have unique platforms and can be pivotal in leading this crucial race to zero.”

Seyi Smith and his 4×100 teammates after finishing the Olympic final at London 2012 (Photo credit: Reuters)

GSB’s Take: If you are a 2022 Winter Olympian, please remember to vote in the Athletes Commission election at the dining halls in Beijing between now and February 16.

 

CLIMATE-ACTIVE ATHLETES FEATURED ON NBCLX ‘MY FAVORITE OLYMPIAN PODCAST

Finally, for your weekend listening pleasure, check out ‘Team USA Battles Climate Change,’ from the NBCLX ‘My Favorite Olympian’ podcast.

Co-hosted by multiple Olympic gold medal winner Apolo Ohno and NBCLX’s Ngozi Ekeledo, the episodes profile established and emerging stars who have overcome adversity and are committed to helping others.

Jessie Diggins after winning gold for the USA in cross country skiing at Pyeongchang 2018 (Photo credit: Reuters)

This 23-minute show features three Olympians – snowboarder Brock Crouch, cross-country skier Jessie Diggins and freestyle skier David Wise – who are determined to do something after seeing the effects and consequences of climate change first-hand. Snow-state U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) weigh in as well.

Photo at top: An instructor teaches snowboarding in front of a snow cannon generating artificial snow at Wanlong Ski Resort in Zhangjiakou, China, before the Beijing Winter Olympics (Photo credit: Andrea Verdelli/Bloomberg)

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