Tennis Australia appears to have ditched Santos for a year in a “multi-year” partnership agreement following a campaign targeting the fossil fuel company for “sports wash”.
The circumstances surrounding the termination of the agreement are unclear as neither side is commenting, but the decision to split was made before November 5, 2021.
The deal was announced in February 2021, with Tennis Australia saying at the time that Santos had “joined the Australian Open and the ATP Cup family as an official natural gas partner”.
“The Summer of Tennis events will provide Santos with a platform to showcase how natural gas is used in everyday life. Connecting to tennis at a grassroots level is also a priority,” it said.
The company’s branding was rife during the 2021 Australian Open, with the Santos logo on the pitch and advertisements promoting the gas industry’s jobs during broadcasts.
In another instance, a slogan “fueled by Santos” appeared on the score line during an epic rally video.
Tennis Australia confirmed to Guardian Australia that Santos had been ousted as a partner.
A Tennis Australia spokesperson did not respond to detailed questions about the circumstances of the decision, except to confirm that the partnership agreement had been terminated.
“Santos was a partner of AO2021, but they are no longer a partner now,” they said.
Tennis Australia is a signatory to the UN Sports For Climate Action framework, which aims to use the ‘soft power’ of sport to encourage meaningful action against the climate crisis.
Tennis is one of the sports that is uniquely affected by climate change. The 2014 Australian Open — where play was halted and 1,000 spectators were treated for heat exhaustion when temperatures rose above 40°C — is considered an example of how climate change is impacting the sport.
The 2021 partnership agreement met with strong community response, with 7,600 people signing a petition addressed to Craig Tiley, the chief executive of the Australian Open, as part of a social media campaign.
Sports organizations are also under internal pressure, with 300 professional athletes signing up for a campaign pushing for more action on climate change.
350 Australia chief executive Lucy Manne, whose organization coordinated the campaign, welcomed the end of the agreement and said Tennis Australia “should be congratulated on ending their association with Santos”.
“It’s really important that we see our biggest, most beloved sporting events move away from partnerships like the one with Santos,” Manne said.
“Tennis Australia hasn’t told us why this happened and maybe it hasn’t, but either way, this is a huge public benefit in terms of the fact that a major fossil fuel company’s brand isn’t splashing everywhere at a major event.
“A major effort has been made to make it unacceptable for cigarette manufacturers to sponsor events… now is the time to do the same for fossil fuel companies.”
Santos – which aims to develop new gas projects in the Beetaloo Basin, Barossa and Narrabri – still sponsors several major sporting events, including the Tour Down Under, which begins Monday.
Last year, the International Energy Agency said limiting global warming to 1.5°C, a goal enshrined in the Paris agreement, meant that exploration and exploitation of new fossil fuel basins had to stop by 2021.
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Manne said it was “perverse” that during the 2020 Tour Down Under, parts of the route passed through areas hit by the Black Summer wildfires, while the company promoted its business through sponsorships.
“There’s a big opportunity for sports like those overseen by Tennis Australia and the Tour Down Under to educate the public about what the effects of climate change look like,” Manne said.
“And it’s easier to do that without fossil fuel sponsorship.”