Sports Sponsorship’s Seedy Affair

Republished from Our Global Health by Jack Fisher 
As another entertaining summer of sport comes to an end, I can’t help but feel a sense of ache surrounding another ‘legacy’ which is left in it’s wake. Before a single ball was kicked in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, I was plagued with the red and white of Coca Cola’s products, side by side with the tournament logo, in Tanzania. In the words of one regional Coca Cola employee: ‘It’s great, Tanzanian people can buy the coke and they can win the chance to be sent to the world cup’’. Inadvertently they can also be sent to a life of chronic disease management, co morbidities and early mortality. Therefore I pose the question, is it acceptable for physical activity to be associated with products related to extensive global morbidity and mortality ?Let’s paint the picture. The world biggest single sporting event, the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final, was watched by one billion people around the world. That means roughly 1 in 7 people were watching the world’s most popular sport come to a climatic end, while exposed to 120 minutes of advertisements from Coca Cola, Budweiser and McDonalds. Whether this manifests itself into an adult drinking 5 cold cokes while watching each game, or a child associating football with fast food, they both have an adverse effect on health.
Flickr: KennyWilliamson
Flickr: KennyWilliamson

However the FIFA world cup is not alone when it comes to perpetrators. UEFA also have similar negative sponsors, funding a range of regional tournaments including those include under 17 year olds. On a national level, the English football association’s last two sponsors have included McDonalds and Mars. Investing in grassroots on which level I ask ?

Outside of the footballing world, it is unfortunately a similarly bleak picture. The Rugby World Cup 2015 (Heineken), Tennis’s ATP Tour (Corona), Golf’s PGA Tour (Coca Cola and Michelob Ultra), Major League Baseball (Pepsi Cola and Gaterade) and American Football’s Super Bowl (Budweiser, Pepsi Co and Coca Cola) are all sponsored by endless empty calorie companies. Of course we could not forget to mention the Olympics and their continual mass sponsorship from McDonalds and Coca-Cola since Atalanta 1996.The frustration continues. Although it doesn’t just continue because of the fundamental immoral principle of associating physical activity, a principle taught as a health enhancing activity, along with these negative food and drink products. It doesn’t just continue because these major sporting events are promoting unhealthy practices in low and middle income countries, whom are less knowledgeable to the adverse effects of excessive sugar consumption and excessive alcohol consumption. The frustrations continues because we have been here before with the restrictions to tobacco marketing.

Thankfully tobacco companies are not currently present within the sporting realm. However it isn’t to say they weren’t until the 1982 FIFA World Cup where R.J. Reynolds (Camel & Winston cigarettes) were a major funder. Furthermore it’s concerning to know that tobacco companies were a major sponsor of Formula 1 up to 2007. This in itself is a case of concern, as this is over 50 years after the British Medical Journal produced damning evidence against tobacco consumption. Do we have to wait 50 years for sports organisation to consider junk food as harmful as tobacco ? Furthermore, I would argue that the sportsmen and women are similarly idolised compared to doctors in 1950. Therefore associating these harmful food and drink products, with healthy role models such as athletes, is a replication of using the gate keepers of health in the infamous ‘More doctors smoke Camels’ adverts.

Flickr: Classic Film
Flickr: Classic Film
If we continue to look at why tobacco was banned, then we see the following statement from Australia:

‘’Tobacco advertising is banned because it promotes a product that is highly addictive and lethal. 
The aim of the tobacco advertising ban is to help prevent smoking uptake and reduce smoking rates. The goal is to improve the health of all Australians. ‘’

Does sugar, alcohol and fast food not have addictive and eventually lethal qualities ? Would restricting advertising powers prevent their uptake and improve the health all people ? Does diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer kill many people each year and cost the economy and society billions per annum ?
Unfortunately this is not the mainstream consensus amongst these multinational corporate companies. However as the scientific body of evidence continues to grow against the mass consumption of these food and drink products, then these sporting organisations will have to re-evaluate their sponsorship positions. There is no doubt we will here the same fears heard over half a century ago from broadcast organisations that all doom will fall on them if these advertisements are removed from their media. Some may also argue that these same companies have nearly a half century more experience to manoeuvre and manipulate restrictions and regulations which governments may impose on them. 

However the reality is we are fighting a new fight. This fight is less visible than the fight on tobacco and may last many more decades. Regardless, it is essential to fight these challenges to prevent and alleviate current and future generations suffering preventable diseases, which are partly inflicted by highly profitable multinational organisations within and out-with the sporting realm. It will be difficult as smoking was seen as a more passive disease. However the concept of passive obesity and chronic disease is an interesting factor when considering similar advertising restrictions. 

Fundamentally these are multi million sports industries who make massive revenues within a capitalist society. They are using the healthiest fittest people in the world to advertise the worlds most unhealthiest foods. That in itself is fundamentally immoral and hugely damaging to society as a whole. Once again, we have seen this all before with Tobacco, so let’s not wait 50 years to pick up the pieces.
Flickr: Kol Tregaskes

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