Fossil fuel companies sponsor Australian sports to the tune of $14m-$18m a year, researchers find

The ‘good news’ is this money could be replaced over time as it represents just 3.5% of sponsorship, expert says

Fossil fuel companies spend an estimated $14m to $18m a year sponsoring the top tiers of Australian sport, according to a new report.

The study, prepared by Swinburne University researchers for the Australian Conservation Foundation, argues the money could be replaced over time because it represents only 3.5% of sponsorship investment in 14 of Australia’s top sports.

Released ahead of the Wallabies’ clash against Scotland in Edinburgh, the report is the first to quantify the number and value of fossil fuel sponsorships in Australian sport.

It comes at a time of increased scrutiny of such partnerships because of the harm the fossil fuel industry is causing by driving the climate crisis.

“This weekend, an Australian national sporting team will represent our country on the international stage wearing a jersey emblazoned with a fossil fuel company’s name when the ‘Santos’ Wallabies play Scotland in Edinburgh,” said the ACF’s campaigns director, Paul Sinclair.

“When we see the Santos Wallabies or Woodside Fremantle Dockers on TV it has the effect of sanitising their role and image as big climate polluters.”

The research looked at corporate sponsorship of the elite level of 14 sports and calculated how many partnerships were with companies which undertake coal, oil and gas extraction or were retail or wholesale providers of electricity and gas.

It included eight major professional and participation sports – Australian Rules football, rugby league, rugby union, soccer, cricket, basketball, netball and tennis – and six Olympic sports – cycling, swimming, rowing, hockey, golf and athletics.

Out of a total 1,458 partnerships, it found 51 were with fossil fuel companies.

Twenty-five of these were with companies which undertake fossil fuel extraction and 26 were with electricity and gas retailers or wholesalers.

The report estimates these 14 sports attract more than $450m in sponsorship investment annually and of that figure, $14-18m is from fossil fuel companies.

While not a small number, the research argues it could be replaced over time with less harmful options.

By contrast, it says fossil fuel companies gain “significant and unique” benefits from a relatively small outlay by using such partnerships to improve their corporate image, communicate with fans of sport and “utilise the soft power of sport to greenwash their operations and climate action credentials”.

Emma Sherry, a professor of sport management at Swinburne University and the report’s lead author, said the effects of climate change, such as more extreme heatwaves, threatened the viability of major Australian sporting events such as the Boxing Day Test cricket at the MCG and the Australian Open.

She said sport already had a history of moving away from sponsorships such as tobacco, alcohol and gambling.

“I like to see this as a good news report in that these coal, oil and gas sponsorships are only 3.5% of the sponsorship pool,” she said.

“The key message is sport has a real opportunity to focus on a carbon-neutral future by ensuring they only work with organisations that are moving to renewables or are already renewable energy sources.”

Last week, a group of high-profile Fremantle Dockers fans urged the club to cut ties with its major sponsor Woodside.

The former Wallabies captain, and now senator for the ACT, David Pocock, last year raised concerns about Santos’s sponsorship of the Wallabies.

He said the report was timely and showed fossil fuel sponsorship “is not an unsolvable problem for Australian sport”.

He said climate-fuelled weather events were already affecting sport at all levels through cancellation and relocation of events, hospitalisations, damage to infrastructure and soaring insurance premiums.

“As the effects unfold across our community, it’s increasingly clear these companies shouldn’t be able to buy their social licence,” Pocock said.

“There’s huge opportunity for other businesses to step in and help sport make this transition.”


Lisa Cox

The GuardianTramp

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