The winners of Bad Sport Awards 2022 have been announced. The awards, which were launched this year, are calling out greenwash and sportswash in international sport and demanding greater climate action and ambition from sports tournaments, leagues, and clubs.
This year’s awards saw four winners across four categories: an overall Bad Sport Award 2022, the ‘Taking People for a Ride’ award, the ‘Skating on Thin Ice’ award, and the ‘Own Goal’ award. Each winner was selected by our expert panel of judges, composed of Olympic gold medallists, climate scientists and climate campaigners.
Having an oil and gas giant as the main sponsor of the first so-called “carbon neutral” World Cup is greenwash on an epic scale, regardless of the close ties between QatarEnergy and the Qatari state. Having QatarEnergy associated with the sustainability claims being made by both FIFA and Qatar would be understandable if QatarEnergy was rapidly scaling up its renewable energy portfolio. But, unfortunately, it isn’t. QatarEnery is doubling down on the production of gas in an effort to fill the void created in commodity markets by the ongoing conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. By 2030, QatarEnergy is forecast to spend $56 billion on expanding gas production with only one other fossil fuel firm set to spend more: Russia’s Gazprom.
The petrochemicals and oil and gas giant, INEOS, is no stranger to sports sponsorship. Yet its most blatant and ironic example of sportswashing is through the sponsorship of the best low carbon transport option available to us: cycling. Even included in the team’s name is promotion of the company’s new initiative – a huge, fossil fuel guzzling SUV, the Grenadier.
The INEOS Grenadiers professional cycling team is one of the most high-profile and ambitious on the international grand tour circuit, it has been signing elite athletes this year and hopes to break new ground in races around the world. And it isn’t just the cyclists that are hoping to break new ground, with INEOS using the recently rescinded fracking moratorium in the UK to push for shale gas exploration and extraction in the Northwest of England. INEOS’ continued sponsorship of cycling is taking us all for a ride.
Edmonton in Alberta is known as the oil capital of Canada. When the ice hockey team franchised in the early 1970s, it seemed fitting for them to be named after substance fuelling the region’s economy. Fast forward half a century, and the Oilers are no less entangled with fossil fuels despite rising global temperatures threatening the very surface they play on. In fact, the Edmonton Oilers run a Oilfield Network for businesses and suppliers active in the Alberta fossil fuel industry that “exclusively promotes companies” in these sectors and helps to “connect your company to other oil and gas leaders”. A name is one thing, but using a sporting brand with a continental reach to help fossil fuel firms network really does put the Oilers on thin ice.
Man City’s recent sustainability push, where the club offered fans air miles in exchange for returning plastic bottles used on match days, is a real face palm of green corporate initiatives. ‘Recycling pods’ were dotted around City’s stadium, inviting fans to dump used plastic bottles in them in order to redeem ‘Etihad Guest Miles’ while helping to ‘make a difference to the planet’.
A return flight from Manchester airport to Dubai emits an estimated 1.8 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, along with water vapour, aerosols and other noxious gases that contribute to further warming. This amount of carbon emissions is not insignificant – the average carbon emitted by a Ugandan person in a single year is 1.1 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, far less than the Etihad return flight. Credible sustainability initiatives from clubs like Man City need to be holistic, grounded in the science of climate change, and – at the very least – not set to make matters worse.
Award judge, Etienne Stott MBE, Olympic Gold medalist and environmental campaigner, said: “Sport has the power to change lives and reach into people’s hearts, firing their imaginations. It therefore sickens me to see the beauty of sport corrupted and cheapened by brands whose business models are demonstrably at odds with the interests of all sports fans, and in fact all life on earth. These brands deserve to be exposed and driven out of sports, and I call on all athletes, sports fans, and all sporting organisations to ditch these losers, before we all lose in this race to save our civilisation.”
Judge, Anna Jonsson of New Weather Sweden said: “The Bad Sport Awards highlight how high-carbon sponsorship in sport is as pervasive as it is harmful. Sports organisations, and its governing bodies, must review their own sponsorship guidelines in light of the climate crisis and immediately kick-out Big Polluters. That’s the level of ambition and action now required to become a good sport.”
Bill McGuire, Professor Emeritus of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at UCL, author of Hothouse Earth: an Inhabitant’s Guide, and award judge, said: “The short list for this year’s Bad Sports awards highlights an appalling litany of faux-green nonsense and blatant sportswash. Global sport is huge, and touches almost everyone on the planet. As such, it is hardly a surprise that it attracts polluters desperate to present a climate-friendly image through conning supporters and the public at large. Calling them out is critical, in particular because the global sports sector, and the billions who support it, has colossal potential as a force for good. This potential will only be realised, however, when the bad guys are dumped and truly climate-friendly sponsors and partners embraced.”
Andrew Simms, from the Badvertising campaign, said: “Sport was once a major billboard for tobacco advertising and sponsorship. But cigarettes were bad for athletes and bad for the people who watched sport. Tobacco ads and sponsors were dropped even though there were complaints, delays and excuses. Today major polluters use sport to promote themselves, and with the climate we depend on at stake, we need to stop the greenwash and sportswash and get the big polluters out of sport. Hopefully, these awards will draw attention to how big the problem is, and how urgently we need to stop ads fuelling the climate emergency.”