UEFA Champions League “race to the bottom”: polluting sponsors are on the verge of advancing to the next round, while others are getting their last moment to shine

Today, the last round of the Champions League group phase starts. A large number of polluting sponsors will be able to expose themselves to enormous groups of fans worldwide. The fixture between FK Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) and Manchester City will be the ‘highlight’ of this, as it features a battle between Russia’s biggest gas company Gazprom and airline Etihad Airways.

Gazprom is Russia’s largest company and the world’s largest state-owned gas company. In 2019, following a scientific analysis, it was ranked the world’s third-largest producer of carbon emissions by the US-based Climate Accountability Institute.

Gazprom is unique in being a state-owned oil and gas company of a country committing war crimes in an illegal war. It’s also one of the biggest polluters on this planet. That the state-owned company is allowed to advertise in European football speaks to broader issues which UEFA urgently needs to address.

Etihad Airways is not only polluting the world by flying their planes on a large scale, but it tries to hide this by greenwashing its activities. It was recently under scrutiny for allegedly deceptive advertising related to its emissions reduction initiatives. Australia’s consumer watchdog is now contemplating measures against the airline in its ongoing campaign against greenwashing.

Besides that, football fans will again be confronted with an enormous amount of sponsors who have fans’ interests at the bottom of their agenda. As we stated before, dirty companies still dominate the kits of our favorite football teams:

  • UEFA itself is sponsored by an airline, Turkish Airlines.
  • Seven teams will be sponsored by an airline. Emirates sponsors Arsenal, Real Madrid, Benfica FC and AC Milan; Qatar Airways sponsors PSG; Riyadh Air sponsors Atlético Madrid and Etihad Airways sponsors Manchester City.
  • Two teams will be sponsored by polluting cruise company MSC (Napoli and AC Milan).
  • Two teams will be sponsored by crypto products (Binance with FC Porto, OKX with Manchester City).

Fossil Free Football once again calls upon UEFA to update its advertising regulations and include a ban on polluting sponsor. This will ensure that climate destructive companies can no longer use football’s platform to promote their polluting activities and protect their reputation. This would be in line with bans on tobacco ads. Many cities worldwide have adopted fossil ad bans.

Our september 2023 report on polluting (shirt) sponsors in this year’s Champions League