Olympic sponsors: health and sustainable development

It is perhaps ironic that Major Sporting Events (MSEs) are sponsored by organisations associated with unhealthy lifestyles. Do such sponsors have added value at sporting events?
Olympic clock, Trafalgar Square, London: Questions are raised as the countdown continues

Increasing health concerns
The incidence of obesity is a growing concern internationally with an estimated 400 million obese people in 2005. The global rise in the incidence of obesity is related to a shift in diet and decreased physical activity levels. With obesity levels on the rise, it is not a surprise to learn that cardiovascular diseases, like coronary heart disease and strokes are some of the leading causes of death globally.

Learn more about Sport, Physical activity and risk factors for major diseases

Terence Stephenson, a spokesman for the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, stated "It's very sad that an event that celebrates the very best of athletic achievements should be sponsored by companies contributing to the obesity problem and unhealthy habits."  However, it is not a new phenomenon, sporting events have received sponsorship from convenience food and drink companies for decades.

The need for funding
It is clear that an event the magnitude of the Olympics requires private investment. A point reiterated in a statement from a London 2012 spokesperson "Sponsors provide a huge amount of the funding required to stage the games...Without our partners such as McDonald's, the games simply wouldn't happen."

Additionally, the Guardian reported a Coca-Cola spokesperson, stating "Without the support of sponsors such as Coca-Cola as many as 170 of the 200 national Olympic committees would be unable to send athletes to compete.

Understandably, private organisations seize upon the opportunity to align their global brands with that of the Olympic values (or sporting values of the specific MSE). However, Stephenson, believes "these brands are using the Olympics to be associated with medals and svelte, fit athletes...They don't want us to think of fat, unhealthy people when we think of their products."

Sustainable impact of sponsors
It is clear that organisations like McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Cadbury, if over consumed do cause health issues. However, it is wrong to completely dismiss the importance of food and drink sponsors at MSE’s.

In efforts to make London the greenest ever Olympics, we take a look at a couple of the sponsors under attack and their added value at the games, beyond the pure financial contribution.

Coca-Cola will be using 100% recyclable plastic bottles, with approximately 25% being made out of recycled materials, providing attractive recycling bins and using fourteen bio-gas vehicles to deliver goods during the London games.

McDonald's have made great strides in their environmental sustainability in recent decades; they support local farms, reportedly spending over £300 million per year on their UK suppliers; recycle their used cooking oil into bio-diesel, a carbon saving of approximately 6,000 tons per year and their Olympic park restaurant has been furnished with recycled materials.

Additionally, McDonald's has played an important role in promoting and supporting the London 2012 volunteer programme. 

The reported evidence acknowledges the mixed views related to certain sponsors involvement in the Olympic Games. Several individuals hold these organisations accountable for the declining health profile of the world. However, importantly these organisations are also making an attempt to create a more sustainable world and without their investment the Games would not be feasible.
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