The Movement to Ban McDonald's, Coca-Cola From the London Olympics
By Jak Phillips
The London Assembly voted to call for a ban on Olympic sponsors that produce high calorie food and beverages.
Junk food giants McDonald’s and Coca-Cola could find themselves left
at the starting blocks after the London Assembly voted to call for a ban
on Olympic sponsors that produce high calorie food and beverages.
Just over a month before London hosts
the 2012 Olympics, the powerful elected body passed a motion urging the
International Olympic Committee to adopt strict sponsorship criteria in a
bid to outlaw advertising of products linked to child obesity.
(MORE: TIME’S COMPLETE COVERAGE OF THE 2012 SUMMER OLYMPICS)
The political statement comes on the back of vociferous protests from
health organizations that the celebration of athletic excellence is not
the place to be tempting youngsters with Big Macs.
“London won the right to host the 2012 Games with the promise to
deliver a legacy of more active, healthier children across the world,”
the Green Party’s Jenny Jones, who proposed the motion, told the assembly. ”Yet
the same International Olympic Committee that awarded the games to
London persists in maintaining sponsorship deals with the purveyors of
high calorie junk that contributes to the threat of an obesity
One of the most vocal critics of the IOC has been the Academy of
Medical Royal Colleges, which feels that the presence of McDonald’s and
Coca-Cola, both of which have exclusive rights to sell food and
non-alcoholic beverages respectively, “sends out the wrong message” to
Big Macs, fries and milkshakes will form part of McDonald’s
exclusively branded menu at its four restaurants in the Olympic Park and
Athletes’ Village, but the chair of AoMRCs fears that adverts for the
sponsors will pose the biggest danger to kids’ health.
University College London’s Terence Stephenson says that companies
wouldn’t spend huge amounts of money on advertising and sponsorship if
it didn’t increase their sales.
“And we know, particularly when it comes to junk food advertising
aimed at children, it does have an affect on the type of food they want
to eat,” he says.
(MORE: 50 Olympic Athletes To Watch)
But despite the criticism of their presence, without companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, the Olympics would be under serious financial threat,
a fact that organizers are happy to admit. Cash generated by commercial
partnerships accounts for more than 40% of Olympic revenues, and the
companies under fire have been two of the biggest contributors for many
Coca-Cola has sponsored every Olympic Games since 1928, making it the
longest continuous partner of the Olympic Movement, while McDonald’s
has been ever-present since the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
Involvement of this level comes at a hefty price. The Olympic Partner (TOP) sponsors likely pay about $100 million for a four-year commitment,
and sponsors typically spend three to four times the sponsorship amount
to plan and execute the associated marketing campaigns.
Additional advertising spending aside, revenue from TOP between 2005 and 2008 came to around $866 million according to the IOC, underlining just how vital the program is to the process.
As for the companies themselves, Coca-Cola points out that more than
75% of the drinks it expects to sell at the Olympics and Paralympics
will be water, juice or sugar-free drinks, while McDonald’s also points
to its healthier options — porridge, bagels and salads — and says that
complex health issues like obesity cannot be solved by companies alone.
“Ultimately it’s up to individuals to make the right food, drink, and
activity choices for themselves,” a McDonald’s spokesperson told TIME
Currently a third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, and British kids are fast catching up, with an estimated 31.1% falling into the same category.
The issue of Olympic sponsorship is by no means a new one, nor is it
likely to disappear in the near future. The IOC will no doubt take the
London Assembly’s move into consideration, but given the sheer sums of
money involved, it seems unlikely to turn its back on the golden goose.