Sponsors' Olympic smoke rings

The Olympic rings cast in concrete
The Paris 2024 Games are meant to be the greenest Olympics ever - but three sponsors produce more pollution than eight coal plants.

Sponsorship deals with big polluters are blowing giant smoke rings in the shape of the Olympic logo over the green efforts of the games.

The Paris 2024 Games are meant to be the greenest Olympics ever - but just three of its sponsorship deals will produce more pollution than eight coal plants running for an entire year. 

New research for the Badvertising campaign finds that the combined emissions associated with the Olympics’ sponsorship deals with airline Air France, carmaker Toyota and steel firm ArcelorMittal are estimated to be 33.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. 

The prospect of extreme heat worsened by climate breakdown hitting the Paris Games already has led athletes to warn about the climate threat to health and even their lives. 

Polluting

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations just recently called for all nations to ban fossil fuel advertising to reduce demand for polluting products and lifestyles.

The Olympic Games has a long history of promoting major polluters, among them multiple oil companies, car makers and airlines. But the Paris games was meant to signal a break with the polluting past. 

Expectations were even higher since Ann Hidalgo, Paris’ Mayor, has led the city in a major greening project, cutting car traffic and replacing parking spaces with plants and ‘parklets’. She also carried the population with her, as the city voted to increase charges on SUVs earlier this year.

New research has found that the Olympic sponsorship deals, which the Paris Mayor does not control, between the 2024 Olympic and Paralympics Games with just three polluting companies will generate 33.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The deals will create more emissions than eight coal plants running for an entire year. 

These polluting sponsorship deals are blowing giant smoke rings in the shape of the famous Olympic logo over the wider green efforts of the Games organisers, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who previously stated that July’s tournament would be the “greenest ever games”

Betrayal

The polluting sponsors have also publicly pushed back against more ambitious climate policy and lobbied against climate solutions. 

AirFrance had fought against making the aviation sector pay for its pollution and attempts to manage demand for flights. 

Sponsorship deals with big polluters are blowing giant smoke rings in the shape of the Olympic logo over the green efforts of the games.

Toyota has annual CO2 emissions higher than most oil and gas companies. After trading of its reputation for early introduction of hybrids, Toyota has become a major obstacle to the shift to cleaner, fully electric vehicles and tried to prevent legislation to accelerate the transition. It’s own plans will see the company overshoot Paris-aligned emissions targets by as much as 184 percent.  

ArcelorMittal, the Global steel giant, was responsible for 114.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2022, which is comparable to those of Belgium, every year.

The Olympic Games promotes an image of health, youth and vitality, but allowing major climate polluters like the aviation and car industries, with their vast environmental impacts, to co-opt the spirit of the Games looks like a betrayal of the very athletes and fans who the Olympics is staged for. 

Humanity

The environmental track records of these companies are starkly at odds with the professed ambitions and values of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

Etienne Stott, Olympic gold medallist at the London 2012 Games, has said: “The Olympic Games should be a celebration of the very best of humanity - but the Paris Games are celebrating those companies condemning humanity to more heat, drought and rising seas. 

"If the Olympics is to take its legacy seriously and not betray its legions of fans and its incredible athlete participants, it must ditch these major polluters and adapt to the realities of a warmer world.”

Laura Baldwin, a British sailor who completed at the Athens games in 2004, said: “All around the world, the impacts of a worsening climate crisis are there to see. Despite this, the Olympics continue to cosy up with the polluters that are complicit in creating the crisis we all face. 

"This situation is untenable. Sport is being changed before our eyes and it faces a perilous future without urgent action. The Olympics could be a powerful vehicle for delivering that action, bringing humanity together through sport and community. But on its current trajectory, the Olympics risks becoming yet another victim of climate breakdown.” 

Duped

The Olympic Smoke Rings report calls on the International Olympic Committee to cut all ties with polluting sponsors that are undermining the future of the Games and threatening the Olympians and Paralympians who make it such an extraordinary and popular global spectacle. 

It also calls for the emissions associated with each sponsor and corporate partner to be included in the Games’ climate targets, strategies and reporting, and for national Olympic committees to do the same.

Anna Turney, the leading British Paralympian, said: “The future of the Olympic and Paralympic Games looks bleak unless we see urgent climate action. 

"The IOC and host cities should be leading this action, inspiring change and protecting the future of sport and all those that love it. But instead they continue to promote high-carbon companies that lobby against climate policy and pollute our seas and skies. 

"We cannot normalise this form of advertising. The public was duped by tobacco and it cannot make the same mistake with polluting industries.”

Destruction

Sport is a sector with close ties to high-carbon companies and petro-states, although some sports organisations have actively turned down lucrative deals with polluters for fear of public backlash and reputational damage. 

In 2022, Tennis Australia - the governing body for tennis in Australia which runs the major Opens and Cups in the country - was pushed by a grassroots campaign to drop oil and gas major Santos as a sponsor after one year of the multi-year deal. 

The following year the English Rugby Football Union (RFU), the national governing body for both grassroots and elite rugby, turned down a very lucrative five-year sponsorship agreement with oil and gas giant ExxonMobil, estimated to be worth around £2.5m.

When Guterres called upon the world to stop promoting its own destruction and introduce a tobacco-style ban on fossil fuel adverts he highlighted the fossil fuel industry’s use of "massive ad campaigns". He said fossil fuel companies "have been aided and abetted by advertising and PR companies". A situation he described as "Mad Men fuelling the madness".

Sponsorship is just another form of paid advertising. The aviation and car sectors are joined at the pipeline and keep the oil companies in business. Guterres called on the ad sector to "stop acting as enablers of planetary destruction" and to "stop taking on new fossil fuel clients, from today, and set out plans to drop your existing ones". 

This Author

Andrew Simms is co-director of the New Weather Institute, assistant director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, co-founder of the Badvertising campaign, coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, an author on new and green economics, and co-author of the original Green New Deal. Follow on X: @AndrewSimms_uk or Mastodon: @andrewsimms@indieweb.social.

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