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Time for sports to bench carbon polluters: Study

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It’s time for sports to up their game in tackling global warming.

That's according to a new report that is urging sports teams and competitions to drop sponsorship and advertising deals from high-carbon polluters.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) SWEAT NOT OIL REPORT CO AUTHOR ANDREW SIMMS SAYING:"One of the big phenomenon in sports, is seeing sponsorship from major polluters, that can be oil and gas companies airlines, all the big carmakers. And we think there's a problem with that because the world has committed itself to going zero carbon."

The report, titled "Sweat Not Oil" by the New Weather Institute think tank, has identified 250 partnerships between sports groups and high carbon industries.

That's despite the fact that many sports federations and clubs have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions and play a bigger role in tackling climate change.

Sweat Not Oil report co-author Andrew Simms…

"There was an estimate from a couple of years ago that carmakers alone pour annually about $1.3 billion into sport and about two thirds of that, well over $800 million is coming from the carmakers, so that's carmakers alone. And then you got some of the people, oil and gas companies, Gazproms, Ineos, to the airlines. The airlines are a huge sponsors of sports too, so we could probably say comfortably that there are sponsorship deals in the billions of dollars each year."

The automotive sector is the most prominent partner in sports with 199 deals identified and an estimated 64% of car companies’ sponsorship budget dedicated to sports, according to the study.

Soccer is the sport most targeted by high-carbon sponsors with 57 deals, from kit sponsors to stadium naming rights.

Russian fossil fuel giant Gazprom sponsors the UEFA Champions League while world governing body FIFA lists Hyundai and Qatar Airways amongst its partners.

Twenty-five tennis events have deals with high-carbon firms including this year's Australian Open where prominent courtside branding featured carmaker Kia, airline Emirates and oil and gas producer Santos.

Simms says polluting industries use sports partnerships to improve their public profile.

“Now I think it's as ironic that you've got major polluters sponsoring sport when we know and the evidence, as new evidence comes out, the health impact, the mortality rates from the air pollution that comes from heavily polluting forms of transport and the burning of fossil fuels. So these are major public health issues and we desperately need to see a change in the way sponsorship happens within sport because of that."

Responding to the report, a spokesperson for chemical company Ineos said its leadership on sustainability had been recognized by Ecovadis, a world renowned sustainability ratings agency.

There are also examples of sports clubs taking the lead as the rest of the world works slowly toward zero-carbon status.

"In football for example, the example of sustainability in sport comes from a very small South of England club called Forest Green Rovers, who have looked at the whole way the club operates, how it interacts with the community, it's looked at all the things that it uses in terms of energy, in terms of its kind of food chain, in terms of how it gets around, its transport and they have gone comprehensively green. So we've got some beacon examples within sport where we can see how things can be done better."

Video Transcript

- It's time for sports to up their game in tackling global warming. That's according to a new report that is urging sports teams and competitions to drop sponsorship and advertising deals from high-carbon polluters.

ANDREW SIMMS: One of the big phenomenon in sports is seeing sponsorship from major polluters. That can be oil and gas companies, airlines, or the big car makers. And we think there's a problem with that because the world has committed itself to going zero carbon.

- The report, titled, "Sweat Not Oil," by the New Weather Institute think tank has identified 250 partnerships between sports groups and high-carbon industries. That's despite the fact that many sports federations and clubs have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions and play a bigger role in tackling climate change.

Sweat Not Oil report co-author Andrew Simms.

ANDREW SIMMS: There was an estimate from a couple of years ago that car makers alone are pouring annually about $1.3 billion into the sport. And about 2/3 of that, or well over $800 million, is coming from the car makers. So that's car makers alone.

And then you've got some of the big oil and gas companies, from Gazprom to Ineos to the airlines. And the airlines are huge sponsors of sports too. So we could probably say comfortably that there are sponsorship deals in the billions of each year.

- The automotive sector is the most prominent partner in sports, with 199 deals identified and an estimated 64% of car companies' sponsorship budget dedicated to sports, according to the study. Soccer is the sport most targeted by high-carbon sponsors, with 57 deals, from kids sponsors to stadium naming rights. Russian fossil fuel giant Gazprom sponsors the UEFA Champions League, while world governing body FIFA lists Hyundai and Qatar Airways among its partners. 25 tennis events have deals with high-carbon firms, including this year's Australian Open, where prominent courtside branding featured carmaker Kia, airline Emirates, and oil and gas producer Santos.

Simms says polluting industries use sports partnerships to improve their public profile.

ANDREW SIMMS: I think it's as ironic that you've got major polluters sponsoring sport when we know, as new evidence comes out, the health impact, the mortality rates from the air pollution that comes from heavily polluting forms of transport and the burning of fossil fuels. So these are major public health issues. And we desperately need to see a change in the way that sponsorship happens within sport because of that.

- Responding to the report, a spokesperson for chemical company Ineos said its leadership on sustainability had been recognized by EcoVadis, a world-renowned sustainability ratings agency.

There are also examples of sports clubs taking the lead as the rest of the world works slowly towards zero-carbon status.

ANDREW SIMMS: In football, for example, the example of sustainability in sport comes from a very small South of England club called Forest Green Rovers who've looked at the whole way the club operates, how it interacts with the community. It's looked at all the things that it uses in terms of its energy, in terms of its kind of food chain, in terms of how it gets around, its transport. And they've gone comprehensively green. So we've got some beacon examples within sport where we can see how things can be done better.