Health experts criticise Tottenham and Liverpool over Coca-Cola sponsorship deals

Spurs ground - Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra
Spurs ground - Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Leading health experts have called for the ties between junk food and sports teams to be “severed for good” after Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool announced commercial deals with Coca-Cola on the same day.

On Thursday Spurs and Liverpool joined European giants Bayern Munich, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain in agreeing a sponsorship arrangement with Coca-Cola as the drinks brand looks to “grow its football portfolio”.

The new deals have caused further alarm among health professionals, who have warned of the impact of such arrangements on child health and are calling for a crackdown on junk food advertising in sport.

The two Premier League clubs are far from alone in agreeing partnerships of this nature, with more than half of the division’s teams currently tied into sponsorship deals with fatty and sugary food and drink brands. The Football Association and Fifa also have commercial agreements with Coca-Cola.

“The UK is in the grip of an obesity epidemic, which is having a devastating impact on people’s health and lives, as well as on public services and the economy,” said Professor David Strain, the British Medical Association's (BMA) board of science chair.

“It is absurd that some of the very food and drink that contribute so keenly to the obesity crisis have been closely linked with sports through commercial deals for so long. Specifically, given the influence that advertising can have on children, and the way they look up to their favourite sports teams and personalities, such sponsorship deals can have a really damaging effect.

'High time these ties are severed for good'

“The BMA has long called for a crackdown on junk food advertising in sport, and this is even more vital now that the new Government seems to be rolling back on its previous pledges to tackle obesity levels. It’s high time these ties are severed for good.”

Katharine Jenner, director at the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of more than 40 health organisations, told Telegraph Sport: “Using sports sponsorship as a marketing tactic to sell sugary drinks is particularly problematic for child health. Kids all over the country avidly follow their favourite teams, investing in everything associated with their team, including – as research suggests – the brands behind the sponsorship deals.”

Last year, an investigation by Telegraph Sport found that sugary food or drink sponsors had grown their share of the UK market during the coronavirus crisis. In Amsterdam, meanwhile, childhood obesity fell by 12 per cent after junk food sponsorship was banned there.

Jacob Rosenberg, a campaigner at the youth-led Bite Back charity, added that it was a “missed opportunity” by sports clubs to promote healthier food and drink options. “Sport creates heroes and role models which we look up to and trust, so I want to see these teams using their massive platforms to shine a light on child health,” he added.

In a statement, Coca-Cola said it has a longstanding marketing policy that ensures it does not directly advertise to children under the age of 16 in Great Britain.

“Coca-Cola offers a wide choice of drinks to suit different tastes and needs, including lower and no sugar drinks and this campaign will see Coca-Cola Zero Sugar prioritised across all channels,” the statement added.