BP no longer sponsor of Channel 4 Paralympics coverage

  • Oil company originally announced as sponsor in 2020, but after backlash has disappeared from Channel 4’s coverage
  • Move welcomed as ‘sign that sport is refusing to be a billboard to advertise companies that are fuelling the climate emergency’ 
  • British Paralympics Association and International Paralympics Committee urged by sports organisations to end their BP deals after Tokyo 

On the eve of the Paralympic Games, it has emerged that oil giant BP is no longer a sponsor of Channel 4’s primetime coverage of the event. It comes as increasing numbers of athletes have begun to speak out on climate change, with many facing sweltering temperatures during last month’s Olympics. Meanwhile, opposition to fossil fuel sponsorship of sport and the arts continues to grow ahead of November’s crucial COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

An initial press release issued by Channel 4 in January 2020 announced that BP and Toyota would “share sponsorship equally” but a subsequent press release published last month stated that “Channel 4’s Tokyo Paralympics coverage will be sponsored by Toyota”, with no mention made of BP’s involvement. In response to a Freedom of Information request by Culture Unstained, Channel 4 have confirmed that Toyota is the “sole sponsor” of its Paralympics coverage but the broadcaster did not respond when asked why BP was no longer involved. 

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 initial announcement of BP’s sponsorship had been met by a firm backlash from youth climate strikers and a petition was launched by climate campaigners 350.org. 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, 1500 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 aligning their businesses with the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement or to end their exploration for new sources of fossil fuels. Despite no longer sponsoring Channel 4’s coverage, BP remains a ‘Gold Partner’ of the British Paralympics Association (BPA) in a contract due to run until the Tokyo Games. 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.

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 1000 hours of coverage across 16 live streams.

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. 

Responding to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent climate report – which has been described as a “code red for humanity” – the UN Secretary General António Guterres 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 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.

Andrew Simms from the Rapid Transition Alliance and co-author of the Sweat Not Oil report said:

‘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 them to compete in events sponsored by the very polluters who are worsening the problem compromises athletes and puts them in an impossible position. Channel 4 dropping BP as a Paralympic broadcast sponsor should send a wider message for sport to learn from how it once dropped tobacco sponsorship for health reasons, and to stop being a billboard for major polluters.’