Bad Sport Awards 2023: winners announced

The overall winner of this year’s awards was Saudi Arabia following the Kingdom’s decisive and vast push into the global sports industry through a number of investments and commercial partnerships.  

Other awards were handed to Shell, TotalEnergies and British Gas, among others, in the ‘Thin Ice’, ‘Own Goal’, ‘Taking us for a Ride’, and ‘Bad Bet’ award categories.

Now in its second year, the Bad Sport Awards seeks to call out the most glaring examples of sportswashing and greenwashing from every corner of international sport. Entries to the Bad Sport Awards 2023 were submitted from all over the world and then the shortlist was discussed by a panel of expert judges who voted on the final winners.

The judges all agreed that Saudi Arabia merited the top spot, citing the Kingdom’s persistent breaches of human rights, its role as a major fossil fuel producer and blocker of climate action at the international level.  

The global sports industry has emerged as a key arena for the state to improve its image on the world stage. Extraordinarily, Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, recently both admitted to using sport to ‘wash’ their national reputation, and declared that he ‘will continue doing sport washing’ and ‘doesn’t care’ about the criticism levelled at the Saudi’s co-option of sport for PR purposes.

The special category winners at the Bad Sport Awards 2023 included:

● The Thin Ice’ Award was handed to the Swedish Ski Association for their ongoing sponsorship deals with car manufacturer Ford, lorry manufacturer Scania, and Swedish airline SAS.

●   The ‘Own Goal’ Award went to the Nissan Formula-E team’s sponsorship deal with Shell.

●      The ‘Taking Us For A Ride’ Award was handed to the recent partnership between the British Olympic Association, the British Paralympic Association and British Gas.

●      The ‘Bad Bet’ Award went to TotalEnergies sponsorship of the upcoming African Cup of Nation 2023 (AFCON) in Cote d’Ivoire

The range and diversity of entries indicate the scale of greenwash and sportswash within international sport, as well as the challenge of kicking them out. Just as cigarette and tobacco advertisements in sport were snuffed out in the 1980s, the Bad Sport Awards believes in the need for similar action to prevent these companies from pushing polluting products that harm the health of athletes and fans as well as disproportionately contributing to the climate crisis, such as fossil fuels, SUVs and air travel.

Commenting on the awards, Andrew Simms, co-founder of the Badvertising campaign, noted that “while Saudi Arabia might not care about admitting to sportswashing. the stain it leaves on the climate and human rights, we believe this should blow the final whistle on sport promoting major polluters.” Simms added that “by accepting sponsorship from major polluters, sport is just collecting money to pay for its own funeral.  If sport is to thrive in our heating world, it has to banish polluting sponsors from the field. The Bad Sport Awards show where to start.”

Jenny Amann, doctoral researcher at Loughborough University exploring football and climate change and a Bad Sport Awards 2023 judge, concluded that: “in a world where many people trust their favourite sports club more than their national politicians, it is imperative for sport to recognise this responsibility and act accordingly. Increasingly, sports stakeholders pride themselves on their environmental ambitions and make us believe that climate change is a key concern for them.” 

Etienne Stott, Olympic Gold Medalist for Team GB and a judge for the Bad Sport Awards 2023, highlighted the function of sportswashing, where high-carbon businesses “are cynically trying to hide the grubby reality of their businesses with the reflected glow created by the efforts of athletes and teams who dedicate their lives to achieving excellence. It’s not on – and we should call it out everywhere we see it.”

Check out last year’s winners

NOVEMBER 29, 2023

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