The Debate on Corporate Sponsorship of Our National Sporting Teams

In this opinion piece, Good Mood Dudes founder Dr. Nicholas Chartres provides his view on this article: Australian cricket captain Pat Cummins slammed for hypocritical ‘ethical objections’ of major sponsor Alinta Energy

Over the last two weeks, corporate sponsorship of our national sporting teams has been strongly debated across Australia, from the front pages of our leading newspapers and even the WhatsApp chat I have with former cricket teammates.

Australian men’s cricket captain, Pat Cummins has stated he has ethical issues about team sponsor Alinta Energy. Its parent company has been listed as one of Australia’s highest carbon emitters, and despite its well-publicized claims it is investing in renewable energy sources, is rated very low on The Green Electricity Guide which considers the timeframe companies propose to stop using coal, whether a company frequently causes local environmental harm, and is transparent in their marketing.

Those opposed to the views expressed by Pat Cummins have pointed to the fact that he has already received money from Alinta Energy to appear in ads, that he flies first class, and drives an SUV with high carbon emissions. All valid points that are hard to disagree with. 

And while climate change is the single greatest threat to human and planetary health, the current rates of childhood obesity have immediate consequences for our childrens’ future. The promotion of KFC by the Australian cricket team and its captain is of equal concern.

However, I applaud him for raising the issue.

I personally believe that we could use a threshold that if a company produces, manufactures, distributes, or sells a product that leads to health disparities and social and environmental injustices, then the government should prevent sporting teams from having them as a sponsor. Sport/professional sports should solely be about health promotion, especially for our children, and these industries sell products that erode such benefits. 

It is still not widely understood, but non-communicable diseases (NCDs), or chronic diseases are the main causes of deaths globally. Environmental exposures, including tobacco, petrochemicals, pesticides, ultra-processed food, alcohol, and pharmaceutical drugs like opioids, along with climate change-related events, including extreme weather and wildfires, are the main drivers of these chronic diseases harming human health.

The responses I have received to this idea when raised on my WhatsApp chat ranged from “well then, there will be no one to fund the teams, and the players won’t get paid, so good luck” to “you drink beers, fly on planes, eat Maccas and use Panadol, so..”. 

My response to these comments is grounded in the same logic as why we as a society eventually condemned tobacco advertising in sport – because we know the tobacco industry used sports and sportsmen as a vehicle to hide and distract from the harm of their products.

It remains to be seen, but I think there are still a lot of companies that will be able to fill the void left by these industries sponsoring our sporting teams. It happened when tobacco sponsorship was banned so there is good reason to think the same will happen again.