New Olympic Boss Challenged To Ban Junk Food Sponsorship

Responding to the election today of Thomas Back as the new president of the International Olympic Committee, Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said:

 

“The world is facing an obesity crisis of epidemic proportions, with more people now overweight than underweight globally, including in poor countries that do not have the money and health services to tackle diet-related disease. 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. 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.”

 

“We challenge Thomas Back to show that he acknowledges the power of the Olympic brand and cares about children’s health. We call on Mr Back to take a more robust and responsible approach than his predecessor and change the IOC’s sponsorship 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 is sending an open letter to the new IOC president this week. The text of the letter is below:

 

Text of Children’s Food Campaign Open Letter:

 

Dear Mr Back,

 

Congratulations on your election as president of the IOC. We were proud of the success of the London 2012 Games, but also very concerned that in the midst of a global obesity crisis, the IOC persists in giving decades-long contracts to manufacturers of fizzy drinks and junk food. The hundreds of health organisations, health professionals and many thousands of parents that we and our members work with would like to see the Olympic movement harness its unique position to promote healthy lifestyles. We would like to see you prioritise this issue in your first term as president.

 

In the run-up to and during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, many parents, leading health professionals and civil society organisations raised their concerns over the IOC’s long-term sponsorship deals with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s and the impact that these are likely to have on children’s food preferences, diets and health. These companies were given an unrivalled platform by the IOC, on an international stage, to promote their sugary, fatty and calorie-laden products.

 

As our report, The Obesity Games, published on the eve of the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, concluded, “At every turn, the sponsorship of the Games – from the companies selected, to the terms of the deals agreed, to the way that they were implemented – seems to be set up to make the healthy choice a harder choice.”

 

There was particular consternation at the way the IOC’s global level sponsorship deals have been renewed to 2020, apparently without any health conditions being attached, despite these companies contributing only around 2% to the overall IOC budget. These concerns extend beyond the UK, to the health of citizens in 2014 and 2016 Olympic hosts Russia and Brazil, and also those in the emerging markets (both for the Olympics and sponsors) of Africa and Asia. All of these countries are experiencing similar patterns of diet-related health problems – rapidly rising obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancers.

 

Your predecessor, Jacques Rogge, recently expressed disquiet about whether these deals fit with the IOC’s aims and reputation, but that was too little too late. We hope you feel able to take a stronger approach and ensure that the IOC takes responsibility for the effect of its sponsorship programme and favours brands and products that promote healthy lifestyles.

 

In our report we recommend that the IOC set proper conditions on promoting healthy eating in their sponsorship deals and institutes an ‘Olympic Exclusion Order’ on companies whose primary products are high in fat, sugar or salt. We also recommend the introduction of robust healthy eating standards for all Games catering – some headway was made on this for London 2012 catering, as part of the London 2012 Food Vision, proving that it can be done.

 

Please let me know how you will be addressing these concerns, so that I can communicate this to the many members of the UK’s Children’s Food Campaign. We look forward to an Olympic movement can truly be seen as a beacon for better health in the world.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Malcolm Clark

Co-ordinator, Children’s Food Campaign

 

The Children’s Food Campaign aims to improve young people’s health and well-being through better food – and food teaching – in schools and by protecting children from junk food marketing. We are supported by over 150 national organisations and co-ordinated by Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. For more information see www.childrensfood.org.uk

The Obesity Games report was published by Children’s Food Campaign in July 2012 and examined the marketing strategies of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cadbury’s before the Games and what they were predicted to do during the Games and as Olympic Caterers. A copy of the report can be downloaded from http://www.sustainweb.org/publications/?id=237