Athletes and fans urge clubs to ditch sponsorships from fossil fuels

Fans and athletes push back against fossil fuel in sport.

Fans and athletes push back against fossil fuel in sport. Photos: Getty, TND

High-profile Fremantle Dockers fans are the latest to push back against fossil fuel in sport, demanding the AFL team sever long-standing ties with oil and gas giant Woodside.

Fans such as Dockers star Dale Kickett, former Western Australian premier Carmen Lawrence, the club’s inaugural football manager Gerard McNeill, and acclaimed author Tim Winton signed an open letter to Fremantle on Wednesday.

“It is no longer appropriate to have a fossil fuel company as our major sponsor moving forward,” they wrote.

“As loyal Fremantle members and supporters, it pains us to see the club we adore partnering with a company that clearly does not align with our team’s values.”

Woodside told the ABC that it valued its partnership with the Dockers and was aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said it was up to sporting clubs to manage sponsorships, while also describing WA as a “mining state”.

“I just say to the players, sponsorship is important for the club’s success and also for their incomes. So if you don’t have sponsorship, then your incomes go down,” he said.

The stand against Woodside came days after a divisive rift was revealed in the national women’s netball team, the Diamonds, over a $15 million sponsorship from Hancock Prospecting.

And on Tuesday, Australia’s Test cricket captain Pat Cummins raised objections with Cricket Australia about a partnership with energy company Alinta.

The Diamonds

Netball Australia said it was trying to resolve players’ concerns, which stem largely from the record of Hancock Prospecting – the mining company of billionaire Gina Rinehart – on Indigenous issues.

Cash-strapped Netball Australia and Hancock announced their lucrative deal in September.

It sparked almost immediate concerns from Noongar woman and Diamonds player Donnell Wallam over Hancock Prospecting’s record on Indigenous matters, which date back to extreme right-wing comments made by Ms Rinehart’s late father Lang Hancock.

Former Diamonds captain Sharni Norder also voiced concerns about Hancock’s environmental credentials.

Netball Australia said this week it was talking with players about the dispute. But the rift remained unresolved before the final two matches of the Constellation Cup.

On Tuesday, NA said it had been decided it was not in the “best interests” of the players to wear the Hancock-branded uniform as it could prove a distraction.

Also on Tuesday, Diamonds captain Liz Watson said all those involved “wanted to make it work”.

“As players we do know that Hancock is such a great investment for our program,” Watson said.

“We are supportive of Hancock and all the players here are as well.”

Liz Watson on the rift over the Hancock sponsorship


Pat Cummins and Cricket Australia

Test captain Pat Cummins raised ethical objections to energy company Alinta’s contract with Australian cricket before the company and the governing body agreed to end their $40 million deal.

The decision was announced on Tuesday, the same day CA named Cummins its one-day captain.

He was quizzed about reports in the Nine newspapers that he had “fronted” CA boss Nick Hockley to raise “ethical objections” to the Alinta sponsorship.

“No, not at all,” Cummins said on Tuesday.

“Nick, the CEO and I, have a really good relationship. We talk about lots of things.”

Cummins has long been clear on his stance on climate change action, as well as how cricket can better manage its carbon footprint.

He said players had a role in deciding which organisations they wanted to be associated with.

“It has always been a balance,” he said.

“We have seen certain players make decisions based on religions, or certain foods they eat, where they won’t partner with specific partners.

“Every organisation has a responsibility to do what’s right for the sport and what they think is right for the organisation, and I hope society when it moves forward.”

The Dockers

On Wednesday, the Dockers fans behind the open letter said Woodside had “doubled down on fossil fuels” and had gone back on its claims to try to decarbonise.

Woodside has sponsored Fremantle for 13 years. Since re-committing to the Dockers in October last year, Woodside has merged with BHP’s oil and gas assets to become one of the 10 biggest independent energy companies in the world by production.

It is also behind the $16 billion Scarborough gas project off the WA coast, Australia’s largest fossil fuel project in a decade.

Non-profit organisation Climate Analytics says Scarborough undermines Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change is already creating catastrophic and deadly conditions for communities here and overseas, alongside massive harm to natural systems that support our economy and wellbeing,” the fans’ letter reads.

“All responsible institutions have an obligation to signal that we must accelerate the transition to a decarbonised economy and cease all new fossil fuel projects.”

On social media, McNeill’s statement was echoed by ACT independent senator and former professional rugby player David Pocock.

Protest in sport

Deakin University sport management lecturer Dr Hunter Fujak said it was becoming more common for sportspeople to take a stand on social issues.

Dr Fujak said athletes had a right to protest but warned that they might encounter “intricate tensions” by doing so.

“It becomes very vexed very quickly once you take a moral position on one social issue because then you have to reconcile it with many others that intersect it,” he said.

He said the sporting world was entering a “period of messiness”.

“The reality is that in the corporate world, there aren’t necessarily that many super positively clean companies waiting to sponsor sport,” Dr Fujak said.

“Nearly every sponsorship comes with some degree of trade-off in terms of ethical relations.”

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