Pro-football players Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba recently removed product placements of Coca Cola and Heineken in press conferences in the Euro 2020 organized by the UEFA. These were small acts of rebellion against health harmful industries’ exploitation of professional sports, sporting events and elite players to promote their products. While seemingly small, these actions have far reaching power, specifically by role modeling positive behavior for young people who watch these sporting events.

In the press conference following Portugal’s tournament opener against Hungary, Cristiano Ronaldo removed two Coca Cola bottles from the table. He then replaced them with water saying “drink water” to the spectators.

It is reported that Coca-Cola’s shares dropped 1.6% in value following this action, a market value drop of approximately $5.6 billion (NZD).

Soon after, Paul Pogba of the French team removed a bottle of Heineken from the table in front of him at the press conference, after France’s victory over Germany.

This is not the first time professional players have opposed using their image and their sport for unhealthy marketing. German professional football player Shkodran Mustafi removed a beer bottle from his La Liga press conference in 2015. Ivorian Yaya Toure forfeited his man of the match champagne on religious grounds in the 2012 Premier League.

In fact, many professional footballers and other professional sports players live alcohol-free for a variety of reasons. The alcohol industry pushing their products on players, fans, children and into all spaces they can find is a threat to their health and well-being.

The actions of these players show that they do not want to be associated with brands such as Heineken and Coca Cola. Unfortunately, the alcohol industry and other health harmful industries have a long history of using major sporting events to push their products on everyone, everywhere, including children.

Alcohol which is a health harmful substance should have no place in sports which is a healthy activity. By promoting alcohol with sports, the alcohol industry propagates a harmful alcohol norm. It associates, the healthy energy of sports with alcohol which is an addictive, cancer causing substance.

Scientific research has found that exposing people to an alcohol brand, and more strongly to a mainstream alcohol brand, such as done in alcohol marketing in sports, leads to more positive attitudes towards alcohol more generally. Researchers have called for a ban on alcohol marketing in sports such as for tobacco to reduce the harmful impact it causes to children and youth.

UEFA response to players removing product placements

The European Football Confederation initially asked the National Teams to not remove product placements and to “respect” sponsors of the tournament. However, this decision was later reversed.

The UEFA then decided that players can remove product placements if they go against religious beliefs as with Muslim players and alcohol bottles.

Reports say UEFA has decided to place non-alcoholic beer in front of Muslim football players and members of national teams.

However, this does not resolve the key issue of associating health harmful products with sports. Even though major alcohol companies such as Heineken have non-alcoholic products much of their profits are earned through alcoholic products. The brand marketing of Heineken is associated with alcohol and as science has proven such brand marketing creates overall positive notions about alcohol which is a harmful substance.

Additionally, Heineken is mired in unethical business practices ranging from aggressive political activity, to tax avoidance schemes; from racism, exploitation of women, Human Rights abuses to unethical marketing. Marketing through sports is used by the company to whitewash their image through sporting events and sports stars who are watched and loved by many.

Sources: “Football: Paul Pogba mimics Cristiano Ronaldo’s $5.6 billion stunt

Athena984: “Euro 2020: Alcohol-free beers in press conferences with Muslim players