Sponsorship of winter competitions by energy-hungry companies like British Airways and Volvo are “nailing the lid on” in the sport’s “very coffin”, says a British Olympic champion.
Lizzy Yarnold, the UK’s most successful winter Olympian, has spoken out following a report suggesting companies including aviation, fossil fuels and car manufacturing are threatening the future of the winter sports they sponsor.
“At its best, winter sports are a celebration of the people who enjoy some of the most breathtaking scenery on Earth,” she said.
“But the impact of climate pollution is melting the snow and ice that these sports depend on,” he added.
“Having high-carbon sponsors is like a winter sport closing the lid on its own coffin.”
The report condemned Vasaloppet, the world’s biggest cross-country ski race in Sweden, for accepting sponsorship from automotive brand Volvo and oil company Preem.
The two companies together account for the loss of 210 square kilometers of snow cover – or the snow area equivalent to 233 Vasaloppet ski runs – according to the study, prepared by Badvertising, a campaign to stop ads from big polluters, and New Weather Thinktank from Sweden.
Arrives amid tough Northern Hemisphere season for snow sports, with satellite imagery revealing a shortage of snow cover in December and record temperatures destroying slopes at some resorts.
The report estimates that between 1967 and 2015, snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere fell by an average of 7% in March and April and 47% in June.
Anna Turney, British alpine skier and Paralympic skier, said: “I want to feel proud of my sport… and I want other people to experience the joys and challenges of snowsport.
“So it’s time for the sport’s governing bodies to broaden their perspectives and find the courage to behave more like the athletes they are supposed to cheer for.”
A spokesperson for Preem said the company is phasing out fossil fuels and aims to complete its sustainable transition before 2035.
They added: “From a climate perspective, we know that Preem is part of the problem, but also part of the solution.
“Preem has positioned itself and adopted the industry’s most ambitious climate target under the Paris Agreement.”
Volvo declined to comment.
“With its clean and healthy outdoor image, winter sports are especially attractive for sponsorship from big polluters who want to ‘wash their image as a sport,'” the report argued.
Its authors call for an end to sponsorship of snow sports by “big polluters”.
“If global sport is serious about climate breakdown, it must … review its partnerships with organizations whose practices run counter to its efforts to safeguard our planet’s future,” they write.
But they stop short of telling sports stars to give up flying around the world for competitions or for ski resorts to stop using energy- and water-intensive snow machines.
However, they urge those involved in the sector to ensure their own operations – including spectator travel – are carbon-zero by 2030.
Badvertising’s Andrew Simms told Sky News that many athletes see it as an “unfortunate necessity” to “travel long distances to practice their craft”.
But it’s “a very different thing to also have your sport used as a billboard to promote high-carbon products,” he added.
“Given that it is virtually impossible to lead a zero-carbon lifestyle, this does not mean that we should not support measures to move in the right direction.”
Earlier this month, professional athletes wrote to their federation asking bosses to dramatically improve the sustainability of winter sports, including rearranging schedules to minimize travel.
Sky News has contacted British Airways with a request for comment.
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