Scoring a health warning for Euro 2020 sponsors

After a dismally soggy May that gave us record levels of rainfall, we seem to be finally enjoying the start of what could be a long, hot summer…interspersed with the odd unsettled, wet day. After all, it wouldn’t be a British summer without a bit of weather uncertainty. Nevertheless, all the signs are here. Whether it’s the competing wafts of boho BBQs, the relentless tunes of circling ice cream vans or the sheer number of adults adopting flip flops as outerwear, the British public are truly embracing the summer with both arms. But while some are resolutely heading outdoors, many others have their eyes firmly fixed on their tvs watching the long-awaited Covidly postponed UEFA Euro 2020 competition. I have to say that while I am enjoying the chance to finally go for some runs in mostly decent weather I am also glued to the footie and the drama on and off the pitch. However, something that has also caught my attention while following the Euros happens to be a real bugbear of mine. Once again, we have a tournament showcasing some world class sportspeople that is sponsored by one of the world’s largest soft drinks company. But I’m not the only one who isn’t happy about it. Just ask Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the finest footballers of all time and has the reputation of being ultra-competitive to the point of being what some people might say is a little bit arrogant. But ultimately, he is also known for being insanely dedicated to the sport and to achieving his peak physical fitness to perform better than everyone else. Unsurprisingly, he is also serious about his nutrition and that includes what he drinks. Which is why at a recent press conference before Portugal’s opening match against Hungary he seemed more than displeased to find two Coca-Cola bottles placed in front of him. He clearly did not wish to follow Coke’s slogan to ‘Taste the feeling’ so decided to demonstrate it. As he sat down, he dramatically moved the two offending bottles as far away from himself as possible. He then held up a bottle of water to show to the waiting press as he said one word, ‘Agua’, Portuguese for ‘water’. Without a doubt, this was not the kind of attention Coca-Cola was hoping for and their share prices promptly dove into a free-fall. But all I could think of was that it was about time that more sports people spoke up.

Because the link between a high consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and ill health is well known and undisputed. It’s pretty simple. A diet high in sugar-sweetened drinks leads to dental caries and weight gain. The weight gain leads to becoming overweight and obese and this increases your risk of heart and circulatory disease among other ailments. In the UK, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to know that the highest consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks is children aged 11-18yrs. But what about the government’s ‘sugar tax’? Weren’t we told that the introduction of this levy in 2018 would simply sort all this? The rationale was that manufacturers would choose to reduce or eliminate the sugar content of their drinks to avoid paying the levy. If they didn’t change and tried to pass on the levy to their consumers, they would lose sales.

To be fair, it’s early days but so far the ‘tax’ has helped to push some manufacturers to reformulate while raising the cost of sugary drinks. This has resulted in a small but significant drop in consumption across some age groups. But stubbornly, the same has not been seen in boys aged 11-18yrs nor in adults 19-64yrs. Which means that the vast majority of all Euro spectators are already committed consumers of sugary drinks, ‘sugar tax’ or not. But are the footballers?

I think it is fair to say that there will not be any football team in the Premier League or any international equivalent that would recommend to any of their players that they should be drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks. In fact, the Premier League’s website includes an area on nutrition and hydration within their #staywell section that puts a great emphasis on drinking water amongst some sound nutritional advice. It also specifically says to avoid fizzy drinks and energy drinks because they will only hinder performance. But it is worth repeating that sugar-sweetened soft drinks are completely devoid of nutrition and only contain empty calories. Drinking them will only cause a sudden rise in blood sugar and energy that is short-lived. And no one wants a player on the pitch that crashes out after a sudden drop in energy. Ronaldo is right. Agua (or water) is always a better choice for playing sport and particularly for those only spectating.

So we know Ronaldo is not a fan of Coca-Cola but was this always the case? According to urban mythology, footie folklore and likely, a good dose of hearsay, Ronaldo was said to lose his appetite for the sugary drink after one particular morning. One day at an early training session he arrived at breakfast by walking in with a bottle of Coke in his hand. Well this did not pass unnoticed. He was subsequently pinned to the wall by another player who told him that in no uncertain terms was he to ever do that again. No one knows what happened to that bottle of Coke but a sugar-sweetened line was drawn in the sand…

Although Ronaldo has yet to confirm the story, he hasn’t denied it and on more than one occasion he has shared his dislike of Coca-Cola with the media. Because although his day job is to be the best professional footballer in the world he is also a parent of 3 children. Despite his wealth, fame and talent he is still a parent like the rest of us who despairs every time he sees his young son drinking Coke and eating crisps. But until professional sport and multinational sports competitions break their dependence on sponsors who promote sugar-sweetened soft drinks (not to mention the junk food) Ronaldo is still part of the problem…or at least he is unless he takes a stand.   

Which leads me to hope that perhaps if other sportspeople also begin to take more notice and consider the mixed messages that they are giving to young sportspeople by their sponsors maybe they will think twice about being a wilful participant. Because even if they personally wouldn’t touch a sugary soft drink with a bargepole, they are still promoting them simply by sitting next to them. Of course, I realise that like the ‘sugar tax’, what’s needed is a lot more than a quick fix. And the herd of elephants in the room are the vast sums of money involved in sponsorship deals and the lucrative deals tied up with individual sportspeople. Until that is properly addressed a protest by even one of the world’s finest is hardly going to cause any ripples in a boardroom. But you have to start somewhere…so why not a footballer and a parent?   

While the Euros continue, sometimes you need a new recipe for a speedy dinner that you can throw together during the half-time break. And what is easier than a simple summer salad? Here’s a nice twist on the bog-standard chicken salad with my recipe for a Roasted nectarine, chicken and avocado salad which makes a great packed lunch or addition to a summer picnic.  

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