Days after flying into Glasgow to catch the opening of the Cop26 climate summit, Santos CEO Kevin Gallagher headed over to Edinburgh to watch the Wallabies play Scotland from a corporate box.
The oil and gas company’s logo may have stood pride of place at the Australian pavilion at the summit, but it was the company’s sponsorship of the Wallabies that would prove a public relations coup.
The deal with Rugby Australia will see the team sport the Santos logo on the top-back of their jersey at every game.
Former Wallabies captain David Pocock, a strong voice within sport calling for meaningful action on climate says “it’s hard to stomach”.
“I was always proud to represent my country. As a rugby player, that’s what you dream of. It’s been difficult to watch a partnership emerge with Santos.”
“I really think fossil fuel sponsorship is the new cigarette sponsorship, where they are advertising a product that we now know is destroying our home planet and our futures.”
As oil and gas companies have spent billions to control the conversation on climate change and present themselves as “part of the solution”. The $50bn world of professional sport has proven catnip to an industry under pressure over its role in driving climate change.
Campaigns director for climate activist group 350 Australia, Kelly Albion, has been tracking fossil fuel companies as they work up sponsorship deals, advertising arrangements and official partnerships with the arts, community groups and sports clubs.
“There’s some that are really hyperlocal in places while others are national,” Albion said. “It’s very opaque so it’s hard to know how many of these are out there or what the relationship means.”
A count of these arrangements for which there is publicly available information reveals at least 12 fossil fuel companies, industry associations and energy retailers have 24 deals with sports clubs, stadiums or events at all levels.
As the list includes only those arrangements for which there is publicly available information, Albion says there may be others that are unknown.
‘You don’t know how much is at stake’
Among the most prolific is South Australian oil and gas company Santos whose patronage extends to several sports organisations.
Even before it expanded its “long-term partnership” with Rugby Australia to include the Wallabies, Santos already sponsored the Wallaroos, Queensland Reds, New South Wales Waratahs, Western Force and the Australian Women’s Sevens.
Outside Rugby, Santos is the naming rights sponsor of the Tour Down Under while it was announced in February that the company would sponsor the 2021 Australian Open as “official gas partner” – although the company’s logo is not currently listed on Tennis Australia’s website.
The move was controversial as the 2014 Australian Open – where play was stopped and 1,000 spectators were treated for heat exhaustion when temperatures rose above 40c – is considered an example of how climate change impacts sport.
But Santos sponsorship isn’t limited to the elite level. Earlier this year the company sponsored both the Festival of Rugby in Narrabri – headlined by rock band Thirsty Merc – where teams competed for $25k …….