BASIS - The British Association for Sustainable Sport

Cristiano Ronaldo & Coca-Cola: Will Fossil Fuels Be Next?

An opinion piece by BASIS’ Dom Goggins

Cristiano Ronaldo’s star is shining on the pitch at Euro 2020, with more goalscoring records tumbling and another major honour in his sights, but his brush with Coca-Cola last week demonstrates the power of athlete influence off the pitch.

As the Juventus star sat down for his pre-match press conference ahead of Portugal’s match against Hungary, he contemptuously removed two Coca-Cola bottles from the prominent position their tournament sponsorship guaranteed them before holding up a bottle of water and saying “Agua!” into the microphones.

The incident caused the kind of global frenzy only social media can stir. Coca-Cola’s share price dropped 1.6% the same day, knocking £2.8bn off the company’s market value.

Whether or not Ronaldo’s scorn was the sole reason behind the drop in share price, this simple incident was a serious demonstration of the influence prominent athletes have and sparked a welcome debate about ‘sportswashing’: the practice of an individual, group, corporation, or nation-state using sports sponsorship to improve its reputation

Forest Green Rovers owner Dale Vince attacked sportswashing on the BBC, criticising brands that ‘use sport to normalise and promote products that are inherently bad for people’ and cited the environment, and greenwashing, as his principle concern.

It begs the question: when will athletes put greenwashing in the spotlight?

The Sweat Not Oil report earlier this year found more than 250 high carbon sponsorship deals across all the world’s major sports. Fossil Fuel giant Gazprom is a long term sponsor of UEFA and a prominent partner at Euro 2020, which is hardly the most environmentally sustainable tournament ever hosted despite UEFA’s sustainability commitments (as we wrote about when the tournament started).

But aside from the occasional article, and with the notable and valuable exception of athletes like GB rower Melissa Wilson, sport has been strangely quiet about the fact it is a major facilitator of high carbon advertising while becoming increasingly exposed to the impacts of climate change.

The longer this goes on, the more of a dangerous trap it becomes.

Sport needs more people like Dale and Melissa.

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