This Valentine’s day, football needs to break up with airline sponsors

In the final 16 of this year’s Champions League, Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid, PSG and Atlético Madrid all play with an airline shirt sponsor. UEFA itself is also sponsored by an airline. All these sponsor deals add up to, at least, a staggering €917 million euros, based on the SportBusiness Sponsorship Database 2024.

Aviation is the most polluting form of travel. If unmitigated, aviation emissions are expected to double or triple by 2050 and in doing so consume up to one-quarter of the global carbon budget under a 1.5 degree scenario. And research this week showed just how close we are to breaching that limit.

Airlines try to convince consumers to continue flying for business trips and holidays and are aggressively marketing their products. Associating themselves with some of the best clubs in the world is part of this strategy.

Years after sports bodies banned ads for smoking, they should do the same for extremely polluting activities like flying. In line with its commitments under the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, UEFA should ban ads for big polluters.

Frank Huisingh, Fossil Free Football: “From Green Football Weekend to vegan boots, we see more and more clubs, players and fans taking serious climate action. We shouldn’t then ask players to be running ads for polluting products like aviation. It’s time for football to break its ties with big polluters.”

Freddie Daley, Cool Down Sport For Climate Action Network: “Football’s huge reliance on airlines for both transport and commercial income will continue to stymie progress towards building a sustainable game. If humanity is to truly tackle the climate crisis, then demand for air travel must sharply decline – this is a fact. Yet elite football continues to promote and normalise it as if the planet wasn’t heating. Football could be a powerful partner in the energy transition, but to do that, it must stop aligning with companies that are undermining the future of the game.”

Michael Hardy, Game Changer: “Europe has been devastated by soaring temperatures, raging wildfires and deadly floods yet the continent’s premier football club competition still acts as a giant billboard for climate-wrecking airlines. From individual teams, stadiums and even the tournament itself the Champions League is awash with aviation sponsorship. Football is heading for a crash landing if it doesn’t take action to safeguard the future of the sport and protect its fans.” 

Rob Bryher, aviation campaigner for climate charity Possible: “UEFA already have questions to answer about the drastic increase in flights under their recently-announced new fixture schedule. The fixture changes make it harder for football to use its substantial influence in taking positive climate action, setting an example for the rest of us. It’s well-known that aviation emissions need to be reduced and it’s unacceptable for this beloved sport to fly in the face of the climate when its fans are dealing with the consequences of rising temperatures, costly bills, and extreme weather. Fixtures could be organised in a way that would enable teams to travel more sustainably, while high-carbon advertising encouraging fans to follow those teams by flying needs to be banned. We all need to pivot to sustainable transport instead of flying, and football should not be exempt.”