The fossil fuel industry’s attempts to associate itself with some of Australia’s major sporting events are under renewed scrutiny, with calls to subject fossil fuel sponsorship to a similar ban on tobacco advertising.
Tennis Australia announced this week that it has early terminated a sponsorship deal with oil and gas company Santos. The sponsorship deal included Santos’ logo featured on signage at both the ATP Cup and Australian Open and would run for several years from the 2021 Australian Open.
While Tennis Australia has not provided a detailed rationale behind the cancellation of its partnership with Santos, it has likely been influenced by growing calls within the sports community for stronger action on climate change.
The Climate Council’s research director, Dr Martin Rice, said Tennis Australia’s move should spur other sports authorities to reconsider their ties to fossil fuel companies, including Rugby Australia and the Tour Down Under cycling event – both of which are also sponsored by Santos.
“Santos is a huge contributor to climate change, yet sponsors some of our most beloved sports, including Rugby Australia and the Santos Tour Down Under, the largest cycling race in the Southern Hemisphere now taking place in South Australia,” said Rice. said.
“Other fossil fuel sponsored sporting codes should take note of this move by Tennis Australia and connect fossil fuel backed companies. Sports clubs and codes can also quickly reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions by changing the way they build venues, host events, travel and reduce waste.”
Rice compared the movement against fossil fuel advertising to that of the tobacco industry. Cigarette manufacturers have been major sponsors of Australian and international sporting events, but such a practice has been completely stopped by bans introduced when the harm caused by smoking was widely recognised.
“Fossil fuel companies sponsoring our sporting events, from the professional to the community level, makes as much sense as if they were backed by the tobacco industry. We’ve dumped tobacco sponsorship into sport, now we must do the same for polluting coal, oil and gas companies, which exacerbate climate change and endanger the future of sport,” Rice said.
Fossil fuel companies have sought to associate their brands with sports teams and events to improve corporate reputations tarnished by growing concerns about their contributions to climate change.
Adani’s Australian brand, Bravus Mining & Resources, signed a sponsorship deal with the North Queensland Cowboys rugby team last year. Australian petroleum company Ampol has also secured naming rights for the rugby league’s State of Origin series until 2023.
Western Australia’s ‘Nippers’ programme, which teaches children between the ages of six and 13 how to swim safely in surfing conditions, has been criticized for receiving sponsorship from oil and gas company Woodside.
Children participating in the Western Australian Nippers program will receive a Woodside-branded uniform to participate in the program.
Many sports have become particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including the summer sports of tennis and cricket, leading to an increasing number of events in extreme temperatures.
Players at the Australian Open currently being played in Melbourne have been battling hot temperatures, with several leading players complaining about the pressure on players to continue matches in warm conditions.
During the summer of 2019-2020, several sporting events were postponed or canceled due to the effects of wildfire smoke – caused by the devastating and climate change-fueled ‘summer black fires’ – which made sporting events played outdoors unsafe.
England cricket captain Joe Root was hospitalized during the 2017-18 Ashes series, following extreme dehydration during the Sydney Test, with local temperatures exceeding 40 degrees and peaking around 57 degrees in the center of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Such events have prompted athletes and climate advocates alike to advocate for stronger climate change policies from governments and for severing ties between sporting events and the fossil fuel companies that produce the oil, gas and coal products that contribute to worsening climate change.
Climate change activists have threatened to disrupt the Tour Down Under cycling event – currently underway in South Australia – over the sponsorship deal with Santos.
We are at the finish line for Stage 2 of the Women’s Race in Echunga.
— Extinction Rebellion South Australia (@XRSouthAus) January 24, 2022
Other fossil fuel sponsorship partnerships have also been under constant scrutiny, including those where fossil fuel companies sponsor educational events and materials, such as Shell’s longstanding financial support to the national science and technology center known as Questacon, in Canberra.
Questacon has defended its relationship with Shell and another sponsorship deal with gas producer Inpex, saying the institution retains editorial control over the educational materials it produces.
However, Questacon has produced materials – intended for an audience of schoolchildren – that promote gas as a transition fuel.
Hi @questaconI hear you have a sponsorship deal with Inpex, a gas company that is one of Australia’s biggest emitters.
Is this why the renewable energy video you’ve made, aimed at school-aged children, is nitrous oxide, a fossil fuel that is destabilizing the climate? pic.twitter.com/rRugamgiBZ
— Tim Baxter (@timinclimate) July 7, 2021
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist at RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy industry for over ten years.