The oil giant BP is no longer a sponsor of Channel 4’s primetime coverage of the Paralympic Games, according to climate campaigners.
The public service television network announced in January 2020 that BP and car maker Toyota would “share sponsorship equally” ahead of the global sports event. But the most recent marketing from Channel 4 now states that “Channel 4’s Tokyo Paralympics coverage will be sponsored by Toyota”.
And now Channel 4 has confirmed that Toyota is the “sole sponsor” of its Paralympics coverage in response to a Freedom of Information request by Culture Unstained. The broadcaster did not respond when asked why BP was no longer involved.
Given that BP reported profits of $7.8 billion for the first six months of 2021, BP’s withdrawal is unlikely to be the result of a cost consideration by the former sponsor.
Much more likely is that it is the result of increasing sensitivities around the oil company’s role in global heating following the recent, latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Many athletes and sports organisations are turning their attention to the growing climate emergency. High temperatures during last month’s Olympic Games saw the introduction of “heat-countering measures” with some athletes experiencing heat stroke.
At the same time, countries across the globe including Greece, Italy, Canada, India and the US were battling unprecedented wildfires.
BP is also an International Partner of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) up until Tokyo and sponsors National Paralympic Committees and individual athletes in Angola, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Singapore, Trinidad & Tobago, UAE and USA.
Pressure will now be on the BPA and IPC not to renew the contracts and seek alternative funding that does not give legitimacy to those continuing to damage the climate and potentially the health of their own athletes.
The apparent change in the Tokyo sponsorship for the games comes as increasing numbers of athletes have begun to speak out about climate change, with many facing health-threatening temperatures during last month’s Olympics and many events forcibly rearranged to avoid weather extremes.
Meanwhile, opposition to fossil fuel sponsorship of sport and the arts continues to grow ahead of November’s crucial COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow. It also follows The Ecologist's exclusive report that Glasgow City Council intends to ban organisations which ‘contribute towards catastrophic climate change’, which would include oil companies, from using council-owned premises during the conference November.
Having major polluters sponsor sporting events is a particularly sensitive issue which draws comparisons with the days when tobacco companies were major sports sponsors.
Athletes are acutely in tune with the climate and air quality and, as such, live and work on the front line of a warming world. Extreme weather events driven by the pollution that is fuelling the climate emergency make sport and their livelihoods unstable at best and impossible at worst.
Asking sports people to compete in events sponsored by the very polluters who are worsening air quality and climate breakdown compromises the athletes and puts them in an impossible position.
Channel 4 dropping BP as a Paralympic broadcast sponsor – even if they decline to admit why - should send a wider message for sport to learn the lessons from how it once dropped tobacco sponsorship.
Organisations and individuals concerned with sport and climate issued a statement in response to the news, saying: "We welcome this sign that sport is starting to step away from its embrace of high-carbon brands and refusing to be a billboard to advertise companies that are fuelling the climate emergency."
The news had come as opposition to BP’s sponsorship of the arts was reaching new heights, with the Royal Shakespeare Company having ended its BP sponsorship deal mid-contract just a few months earlier.
Just weeks after Channel 4 had made the sponsorship deal public, 1,500 people took part in a three-day creative protest against BP’s controversial sponsorship of the British Museum, the largest in the museum’s 260-year history.
Since April there has also been a growing backlash against Shell’s sponsorship of the Science Museum’s flagship climate exhibition.
Oil and gas majors including BP and Shell have been widely criticised for announcing loophole-ridden pledges to go “net zero” by 2050, while failing to make concrete commitments to align their businesses with the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement, or to end their exploration for new sources of fossil fuels.
Channel 4’s coverage will include over 300 hours on direct TV including nightly editions of The Last Leg hosted by comedian Adam Hills, as well as 1,000 hours of coverage across 16 live streams.
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, responded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent climate report - which has been described as a “code red for humanity” - in very clear terms.
He said: “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as the report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”
The world of sport remains awash with many high-carbon sponsorship deals with a recent report, Sweat Not Oil, by the New Weather Institute, Rapid Transition Alliance and Possible revealing more than 250 deals between high-carbon industries and leading sports teams.
The recent Euro 2020 football tournament was prominently sponsored by the Russian state gas company and mega-polluter Gazprom, as well as controversial car manufacturer Volkswagen.
Petrochemicals giant INEOS, owned by the UK’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe, is currently the sponsor of the ‘INEOS Team UK’ sailing team, the ‘INEOS Grenadiers’ cycling team, and was recently announced as the new sponsor of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team in a move criticised by environmental campaigners.
Jess Worth is co-director of Culture Unstained, and has been campaigning to end oil sponsorship of culture and promote ethical funding of the arts for the past decade.
Andrew Simms is co-director of the New Weather institute, co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility and a research associate at the University of Sussex.