By Nick Doyle
Recently there has been considerable pushback from within the sporting industry over sporting sponsorship by fossil fuel corporations or what has come to be known as ‘sportswashing.’
Similar to the idea of ‘greenwashing,’ sportswashing can be seen as a way for an organisation to persuade the public into a more positive perception of them via association.
Many, including former Wallabies’ captain turned independent senator David Pocock, view sportswashing as a strategy by these corporations to buy social standing and shift the focus away from the destruction and pollution they cause. Such as Woodside’s Burrup Hub which would cause billions of tonnes of emissions and impact important cultural heritage sites at Murujuga.
One of the most major pushbacks against sportswashing came a few weeks ago when a group of high-profile Dockers’ fans and former player Dale Kickett signed an open letter to the club, urging them to drop Woodside as a major sponsor.
The signatories stated that it was no longer appropriate for the club to be sponsored by a fossil fuel company, as the world is in the midst of a climate crisis driven by companies such as Woodside.
“We should not allow our club’s good name to be used by a corporation to enhance its reputation when its core activities are so clearly threatening our planet,” they said.
This also follows the news that Australian cricket test captain Pat Cummins raised ethical concerns with Cricket Australia over a $40 million sponsorship deal with Alinta Energy.
Fossil fuel sponsorship is rampant in all levels of sport across our country, from the Wallabies having Santos as a major sponsor, right down to a local level as seen with Woodside’s partnership with Surf Living Saving Australia with their Woodside Nippers program.
A recent study conducted by Swinburne University for the Australian Conservation Foundation found that fossil fuel companies spend an estimated $14m to $18m a year sponsoring the Australian sporting industry.
The report found that this figure was relatively small compared to the sponsorships the industry receives as a whole, representing only 3.5 per cent of investment in 14 of Australia’s top sports.
By contrast, the report states the benefits to fossil fuel companies are far greater, as they use these partnerships to improve their corporate image and “utilise the soft power of sport to greenwash their operations and climate action credentials.”
“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,” ACF campaigns director, Paul Sinclair said.
However, it’s now clear the tide is turning and the fight against fossil fuel sponsorship is not just exclusive to sport either, as recently both Woodside and Chevron ended their sponsorships of Fringe World and Perth Festival respectively, mainly due to substantial opposition from activists and environmental organisations.
The rejection of the fossil fuel industry in our artistic and cultural institutions is indicative of a wider shift in society towards the notion that by accepting this insidious influence we are complicit in their actions.
The fossil fuel industry has increasingly been compared to the tobacco industry, and just as with tobacco sponsorships in years past, it is not just morally irresponsible but wholly unjustifiable to receive money which has been gained not just at the cost of our health, but at the health of our planet.