Activists urge UEFA to break up with airline sponsorships

As airline sponsorships become more intrinsically linked to European football, activists are urging clubs and governing bodies to break away from this ecologically damaging association.

Thred Media
3 min readFeb 20, 2024

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There’s rarely a quiet day at UEFA HQ, and Valentine’s Day brought forth a fresh batch of criticism to the association’s door.

The Union of European Football Associations, which hosts the sport’s elite EU competitions; including the Champions League, Europa League, and Conference League, is now under fire for its ever-expanding relationship with airline companies.

While this has been a contentious topic for years already, the microscope is once again on UEFA thanks to the efforts of eco-sport group Fossil Free Football.

On the internationally recognised day of love, the account posted an editfeaturing the UEFA crest and Turkish Airlines logo cosied up in bed with copy reading: ‘We celebrate the ongoing love affair between European elite football and the fossil fuel industry.’

If you keep up to date with European football, you’ll already know that the account’s indictment is in no way overstated. Not only is the organisation sponsored by Turkish Airlines, but five of the 16 teams left in the Champions League will don shirts featuring an airliner logo before the final.

All in all, this intersectional relationship is worth approximately €317m annually, and an overall value of at least €917m. Whether through shirt or stadium deals, the elite clubs which flog these enterprises include Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan, Dortmund, and PSV, among many others.

Notably, in it’s quest to bulk out its revenue streams to permit huge spending in future transfer windows, Saudi-owned Newcastle United have partnered with the nation’s newest airline company Saudia.

Despite pledges to pivot towards a more sustainable future for the sport — chiefly, in the form of its public commitment to the Sports for Climate Action Framework– UEFA is further strengthening the relationship between the fossil fuel industry and European football.

Concerns have been raised numerous times about the sharp increase in flights under UEFA’s new fixture schedule. The union encourages teams to take a bus or train to this summer’s Euro 2024, but has conveniently dropped its initial flight-fee requirement. Greenwashing, perhaps?

While some novel eco-conscious efforts are commendable, such as the Premier League’s Green Football Weekend which gamifies sustainable life choices and encourages fans to get involved, ultimately, the sport’s over-normalisation of incessant air travel tramples on any gleanable upside.

‘Football could be a powerful partner in the energy transition, but to do that, it must stop aligning with companies that are undermining the future of the game,’ says Freddie Daley of the Cool Down Sport for Climate Action Network.

Fast recovering from the economic knock of the pandemic, emissions from flying are growing faster than any other mode of transport. Without holistic reduction plans, aviation is on course to double its emission outlay again before 2050 — a critical point that would consume more than 10% of the globe’s remaining carbon budget to stay under 1.5C warming.

As pessimistic an indictment as it may be, football in its current form can never be sustainable. How can we effectively regulate a sport in which any self-made billionaire or enterprise can get their hands on clubs overnight, so long as the disposable income is there to be spent?

The governing bodies which control competitions, meanwhile, are advocating for more games to be played, more teams to qualify from all corners of the globe, and ipso-facto, more emissions to damage our climate.

Originally written by Jamie Watts for Thred.

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