In a public letter to to the newly elected International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Thomas Bach, Malcolm Clark, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: “We challenge Thomas Bach to show that he acknowledges the power of the Olympic brand and cares about children’s health. We call on Mr Bach to take a more robust and responsible approach than his predecessor and change the IOC’s programme, so that the Olympic movement can truly be seen as an inspirational beacon for better health in the world.”
The Children's Food Campaign said brands like Coca-Cola have an exclusive platform and exposure which is disproportionate to the financial gains made by the IOC. According to the its 2012 report The Obesity Games, corporate sponsorship of the London 2012 Games accounted for less than 10% of the total funding - with junk food sponsors contributing around just 2% of the IOC income.
The lobbying letter makes particular reference to Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. In response, a Coca-Cola Great Britain spokesperson said: “As one of the longest, continuous sponsors of the Olympic Movement, we are proud that we are able to use our sponsorship to enable millions of people to experience the Games. The long term support of Coca-Cola and other worldwide sponsors enables athletes from around the world to train, prepare for and compete in the Olympic Games.”
In the statement issued to FoodNavigator the spokesperson referenced its associated community responsibility initiatives. “Our partnership with the national charity StreetGames has provided doorstep sport to over 110,000 young people in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas.”
In children's health campaigners' report The Obesity Games, schemes like this were dubbed “obesity offsetting”.
“We are committed to playing an important role in the health and wellness debate by offering a broad choice of drinks to consumers and helping people make informed choices. At London 2012, we offered the widest range of drinks ever made available at an Olympic and Paralympic Games. As a result, 73% of all drinks we sold at the London 2012 Games were no- or low-calorie products, water, juice or smoothies,” the Coca-Cola spokesperson said.
Clark said that sponsorship from junk food brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s represented a missed public health opportunity.
“The Olympic movement has the potential to work with athletes to inspire a new generation to get fit and eat well. Yet the International Olympic Committee persists in giving fizzy drink and junk food companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s an unrivalled platform to promote their brands and their sugary and fatty products in multi-million pound sponsorship deals that link sport to less than healthy eating habits,” Clark said.
“Despite acknowledging the harm to the IOC’s aims and reputation, the previous president of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, renewed these sponsorship deals to last until at least 2020,” he added.
Industry recognises role in the fight against obesity
Responding to the Children’s Food Campaign, director general at the British Soft Drinks Association, Gavin Partington, said: “We all recognise our industry has a role to play in the fight against obesity, which is why soft drinks companies have been reducing the calorie content of our drinks for many years now, and currently more than 60% of all soft drinks in the UK contain no added sugar. Like all food and drink, soft drinks should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle.”
“The sponsorship by soft drinks companies of sporting events enables them to promote sporting activity and healthy lifestyles and should be welcomed,” Partington said.