Skiers call out snowsports sector over ‘big irony’ of high-polluting sponsors

Skiers and campaigners have criticised winter sports organisations for “big irony” sponsorship deals with high-polluting companies.

Former British alpine skier and Paralympian Anna Turney is among those calling on snowsports organisations to opt for sponsors who are building a fossil-free future.

It comes as the Badvertising campaign and New Weather Sweden analysed the potential impact caused by high-polluting companies sponsoring organisations like GB Snowsports and the International Ski & Snowboard Federation (FIS).

The researchers estimated the emissions that could have been created by the increased sales generated through sponsorships by seven companies – Audi, Ford, SAS, Equinor, Aker Solutions, Volvo and Preem.

The findings – published in the report Dirty Snow on Saturday – suggest that total emissions from the seven firms’ increased sales could melt an area of 1,968 square kilometres of spring snow each year – equivalent to more than 275,000 football pitches.

It comes as the FIS Ski World Cup finals begin on Saturday in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria.

Audi’s sponsorship of the event could generate between 103,000 and 144,000 tons of emissions, equivalent to burning between 238,000 and 333,000 barrels of oil, according to the analysis.

The researchers also calculated the amount of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions that could be generated for each pound that the company spent on the sponsorship deal, if there is a 7% return on investment.

Norwegian energy services firm Aker’s sponsorship of GB Snowsport could generate increased emissions of 112.3kg CO2e for each pound the company invested, the findings suggested.

Meanwhile, each pound spent by Norwegian oil major Equinor in its sponsorship of the Norwegian Ski Federation could generate increased emissions of 30.9kg CO2e, the research showed.

The report warned high-emitting sponsors are compounding the existential threats posed to winter sports due to rising global temperatures and shifting snowfall patterns.

Resorts across Europe have been struggling to stay open during the winter season due to record-breaking temperatures, with a growing number of ski slopes now relying on artificial snowmaking, which itself is energy-intensive.

Ms Turney said: “Winter athletes want to solely focus on their performance but the spectre of climate change looms large over every single snowsport. Not as a distant risk, but as an immediate peril.

“Snowsports organisations need to show courage and be brave if they are to secure a flourish future for snowsport.

“They need to do things differently and that must start with which companies they promote and associate with. It could not be simpler: if we do not change, then there will be no more snowsports.”

Bjorn Sandstrom, Swedish elite cross-country skier and environmental scientist, said: “Many sports federations and professional athletes are marketing an idealised, elite lifestyle with high consumption of products and travel.

“This sends a message to younger generations leading to more people striving towards this ‘glamorous life’.

Winter Paralympics – Paralympic Team GB Launch for Sochi – Radisson Blu Hotel
Anna Turney wants snowsports organisations to opt for sponsors who are building a fossil-free future (Danny Lawson/PA)

“But the research is clear – we have to leave these unsustainable behaviours that are leading us deeper into the climate crisis.”

Former Dutch skater Mark Ooijevaar said: “High-carbon sponsorship in sports needs to be replaced by sponsorship from companies that are building a fossil-free future.

“This is especially true of winter sports, where the threats of climate change could not be more apparent.

“There is a clear role here for elite athletes to speak up and sound the alarm, as important influencers in society.”

Anna Jonsson, co-director New Weather Sweden, said: “It is a big irony that polluting sponsors within winter sports are melting the ice and snow that the sports are dependent upon.

“We all want to save the snow – but to secure a future for winter sports, all organisers and athletes must drop polluting sponsors.”

Andrew Simms, director of the New Weather Institute and co-ordinator of the Badvertising campaign said: “These sponsors are not charitable donors but self-interested corporations whose heavily-polluting business models are in conflict with the climate that snowsports depend on.

“They’re using sport as a billboard to sell more high-carbon products that are killing our winters and now, for the first time, we can put a figure on the damage their money does.”

Concerns around high-carbon companies sponsoring sport have been growing in recent years, with a number of international tournaments ending ties with high-carbon sponsors on climate grounds.

The English Rugby Football Union (RFU) reportedly turned down a commercial sponsorship deal with US fossil fuel major ExxonMobil last year and Tennis Australia scrapped its partnership with oil and gas giant Santos after a grassroots campaign in 2022.

An Aker spokesperson said: “As a supplier to the energy industry, Aker Solutions enables energy companies to produce oil and gas with low emissions and responsible practices while also helping to scale the renewable energy solutions we need to phase out fossil fuels.”

A GB Snowsport spokesperson said: “In October 2022 GB Snowsport’s Cross Country team entered into a partnership agreement with Team AkerDaehlie which is a company that is owned by SkiMagi AS – (33%), Aker Capital (33%) and Active Brands AS (33%).

“We regret that the authors of this report did not approach GB Snowsport for comment prior to publication, as we share their commitment to sustainability in snowsport, and would have been happy to point out the distinction in our association with Team Akeraehlie.

“As an organisation, we are absolutely alive to the concerns of snowsport athletes and fans around the impacts of climate change on international snowsport. We take our responsibility for the future of winter sports seriously.”

PA has contacted FIS, GB Snowsport, Audi, Equinor, Volvo, Preem, SAS, Ford and the Norwegian Ski Federation for comment.