climate change

Opinion: UEFA needs to climate-proof its sponsors

Ronaldo removes Coca Cola bottle.

By Anders Lorenzen

Delayed a year by the pandemic, Euro 2020 is now in full swing.

But it has already caused some controversies.

One of the star players of the tournament, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, caused headlines and outrage from UEFA (Europe’s governing football body) when, at a press conference, he removed a bottle of Coca Cola from the table and replaced it with a bottle of water. It is now expected that Portugal will be fined by UEFA.

Cristiano Ronaldo took the action for reasons of public health, to point out the absurdity of Coca-Cola sponsoring a sporting event that millions of kids and teenagers and aspiring athletes around the world are watching. Many studies have argued the serious health implications of consuming their products as well as its links to obesity. There are also environmental issues as many studies have shown the company to be the world’s biggest plastic polluter. 

You could make similar health arguments as to why on earth Heineken are also allowed to sponsor this sporting event, or on climate grounds why are fossil fuel giants, Russia’s Gazprom and Germany’s car giant Volkswagen, also on the sponsor list?

UEFA and CSR

In UEFA’s not very detailed CSR policy page, they managed to dedicate a space worth a full three paragraphs to climate change and the environment. Apart from some empty promises such as that climate change is an issue they take seriously, there is not much in it, and not a single word related to any kind of ethical policy sponsors should adhere to.

Gazprom is the state-owned Russian oil and gas company that played a key role in the imprisonment in Russia of 30 Greenpeace activists in 2013 after they had protested against oil drilling in the Arctic, and imprisoned them under conditions violating human rights. And Volkswagen, the German car giant, uses the tournament for some extraordinary green-washing. A failed Greenpeace action during the France-Germany match nevertheless highlighted that the company still sells a huge number of climate-wrecking diesel and petrol engines. Euro 2020 football spectators and viewers, however, will only see the banner in which the car-maker promotes one of its electric vehicle models. 

UEFA needs to up their game

While sustainability in sport has taken some time to materialise, in some sports organisations, and even amongst several football clubs, you see more ambitious and progressive stances taken. But looking at where UEFA stands you would not know we are in a climate crisis and that we are approaching the crucial COP26 climate summit. 

UEFA seems much more akin to an authoritarian and corrupt regime. Because not only are there no standards and ethics required from the companies they accept as sponsors, indeed you could be the biggest and dirtiest polluter, but UEFA doesn’t care as long as the companies put money on the table. In addition, the organisation clamps down on free speech. Players are not allowed to criticise sponsors or voice political views, making it much harder for the players to take a stand. Football players should be encouraged to speak up about critical issues such as where the money comes from to finance the sporting events they’re taking part in.

Fundamentally, if they’re to be fit for purpose in the 21st Century, UEFA needs to have tougher rules for who they allow in as sponsors. You just can’t allow companies who wreck the climate, the future and the health of the hopeful future football stars to use the tournament to spread their propaganda.

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