We are in the middle of a jam-packed Earth Month, so the least we can do is give you a GSB News & Notes column! It features an important report on the tight relationship between sports teams and leagues — including those that are greening — and fossil fuel-heavy companies, Formula E’s plans to bring EV racing to India, an EcoAthletes panel on Earth Day Eve and some dark Green-Sports comedy from often dark (in the winter, at least) yet funny Finland.
BIG POLLUTERS ACCUSED OF SPORTS GREENWASHING
“Sweat, Not Oil”, a study published last month by the New Weather Institute and brought to light by The Guardian revealed that there are more than 250 advertising and sponsorship deals between some of the biggest corporate polluters and leading sports teams and organizations.
Andrew Simms, a co-director of the New Weather Institute and one of the report’s co-authors, told The Guardian’s Matthew Taylor that“Sport is in the frontline of the climate emergency but floats on a sea of sponsorship deals with the major polluters. It makes the crisis worse by normalizing high-carbon, polluting lifestyles and reducing the pressure for climate action.”
Co-authored by climate nonprofit We Are Possible and the Rapid Transition Alliance, the report identified advertising and sponsorship deals with major polluters across 13 different sports, including soccer, tennis and baseball. Soccer led the way, with a whopping 57 sponsorship deals with high-carbon industries. Not surprisingly, autos — the mother’s milk of sports sponsorship lead the way, with airlines and fossil fuel companies contributing heavily. In addition to gaining access to their target audiences, these companies are also looking to burnish their image — including in terms of their environmental bona fides. The authors made note of this.
“We know about ‘greenwash’ – when polluters falsely present themselves as environmentally responsible,” Simms related.”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 very air that athletes have to breathe, and wrecking the climate that sport depends on.”
The study highlights two fossil fuel companies that have made major incursions into European sports over the past decade or so: Ineos and Gazprom.
Ineos was, as of 2019, reported to be the world’s fifth largest chemical company and is heavily involved in fossil fuels. The corporation has been criticized in many quarters for being a fracking leader in Great Britain. It has used high profile sports sponsorships to help blunt the incoming:
- Team INEOS Grenadiers – British cycling team – one of the world’s best cycling teams
- OGC Nice Ligue 1 football club in France
- Lausanne, Switzerland’s football club, Lausanne-sport, and hockey team HCL
- Mercedes’ British Formula 1 team
- INEOS Team UK, the British America’s Cup sailing team.
The last example is galling to GreenSportsBlog.
INEOS Team UK’s skipper Sir Ben Ainslie was a Green-Sports icon before 2018, working closely with 11th Hour Racing, an organization that partners with elite sailing teams committed to sustainable practices, providing them with financial, technical and other support.
Problem was, Land Rover BAR¹, as Sir Ben’s team was known in 2017, finished poorly in the 2017 America’s Cup. He decided he needed a bigger budget to be able to make a run at the 2021 America’s Cup. INEOS CEO Jim Ratcliffe showed up with a $151 million check. Bye-bye 11th Hour Racing. ‘All that green stuff I was spewing,’ Sir Ben seemed to be saying, ‘…ah, never mind.’
Russian state-owned Gazprom, the world’s largest gas producer, has been reported to use its sports sponsorship contracts as a way of strengthening its political influence – and to help it extend its gas network in Western Europe. The company sponsors four top European football clubs: perennial Premier League contender Chelsea, Schalke 04 of Germany’s top league, the Bundesliga, Zenit Saint Petersburg, and Red Star Belgrade. It also supports the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup.
The question thus becomes: Can sports leagues and teams afford to turn off the fossil fuel spigot?
GSB’s Take: The question really should be how can sports afford not to say ‘bye bye’ to fossil fuel dollars, given the existential nature of the climate crisis? Andrew Simms of the New Weather Institute frames it this way: “These deals should be stopped for the same reason tobacco sponsorship ended: for the health of people, sports and the planet.”
Seems like it’s on the sports industry to figure out how to responsibly and quickly replace fossil fuel sponsorship money.
The sports industry seems to agree.
Many of the organizations that take Ineos’ and Gazprom’s sponsorship money — and from many other companies — are signatories of the U.N.’s Sport for Climate Action Framework. Sports sponsorship falls under the remit of “responsible consumption” which is listed under principle 4 of the Framework.
There is precedent for this: Tobacco companies were major sponsors of sports for the first 75 years of the 20th Century.
And then, as if in a nano-second, they were gone.
It will take longer than that for the fossil fuel-based industries to be pried away from sports sponsorship but the time to start the effort is…yesterday.
FORMULA E TARGETS INDIA TO HELP MAKE A DENT ON POLLUTION, CARBON
Jaime Reigle, CEO of Formula E, sees India as a future race venue. By doing so, he hopes the the open-wheel EV racing circuit now in its seventh season can highlight the pollution risks in the country’s densely populated big cities.
“India, the more I think about it, the more excited I get,” Reigle told Autosport.com in a March interview. “You look at that market, it has a young urban population, an internationalists outlook. [We have] an opportunity to skip a generation in terms of electric mobility and showcase the future…I’m not saying anything controversial to say that those cities are very populated and there’s lots of pollution. Electric [cars] can really transform the quality of lives in those markets.”
Indian automaker Mahindra has a Formula E team so the circuit is already familiar with the country. “There are challenges [with India],” acknowledged Reigle. “But I have had good conversations with Dilbagh Gill [CEO of Mahindra Racing] and the Mahindra guys to see if we can accelerate [plans for an Indian race].”
GSB’s Take: India makes great sense as an expansion market for Formula E. Highlighting accelerated EV adoption as a way to reduce the country’s air pollution crisis is smart and a must. I hope Formula E adds the benefit of EV’s reduced carbon emissions to its India storytelling.
ECOATHLETES “CLIMATE AND SPORTS” PANEL, HOSTED BY PRINCETON CLUB OF NY ON EARTH DAY EVE/OPEN TO PUBLIC
Kick off your Earth Day the night before with “EcoAthletes Panel: The Importance of the Intersection of Sports & Climate Change”, hosted by The Princeton Club of New York.
Three EcoAthletes Champions will give their takes on leading climate action:
- Garry Gilliam, ex-NFL offensive linemen; now founder of The Bridge Eco-Village, an innovative, mixed-use real estate development that features produce grown in abandoned warehouses.
- Princeton alum Phoebe Champion, ex-pro water polo player; now GM of Akrathos (Greece) sustainable winery.
- Zoe Morse, Chicago Red Stars defender and leader of ‘Green Athletics’ while at University of Virginia
Yours truly will moderate.
The free event will run from 7-8PM on Wednesday April 21. All friends of GreenSportsBlog, EcoAthletes and its Champions are welcome! All you have to do to attend is to log in using this Zoom information:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: SALLA, FINLAND’S COLDEST TOWN, BIDS TO HOST 2032 SUMMER OLYMPICS
Brisbane, Australia is thought to have the inside track to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
But a late-breaking outsider bid has come in to give the Gold Coast city an unlikely challenge. Salla, Finland, a bustling metropolis of about 3,400 people that is a ten hour drive north of Helsinki, put its hat in the ring. It is the country’s coldest town. And Salla wants to host the Summer Games.
Don’t believe me? Check out Save Salla’s — the Salla 2032 Organizing Committee— promotional video (2 minutes 37 seconds):
Humor and climate change don’t usually go together. But the Save Salla folks win Gold for dark comedy with this video.
Watch out Brisbane; Salla 2032 is coming for you!
¹ BAR = Ben Ainslie Racing