The sponsorship of winter competitions by energy-hungry companies such as British Airways and Volvo is “nailing the lid” on the sport’s “own coffin”, the British Olympic champion has said.
Lizzy Yarnold, Britain’s most successful Winter Olympian, has spoken out after a report suggested companies including those in aviation, fossil fuels and car manufacturing were threatening the future of the winter sports they sponsor.
“At its best, winter sports is a celebration of people enjoying some of the most amazing landscapes on Earth,” she said.
“But the impact of climate pollution is now melting the snow and ice on which these sports depend,” she added.
“Having high-carbon sponsors is like a winter sport nailing the lid to its own coffin.”
The report condemned Vasaloppet, the world’s largest cross-country skiing race in Sweden, for accepting sponsorship from carmaker Volvo and oil company Preem.
Together, the two companies are responsible for the loss of 210 square kilometers of snow cover – or an area of snow equivalent to 233 Vasaloppet ski races – according to a study written by Badvertising, a campaign to stop advertising by major polluters, and New Weather, a Swedish think tank.
Appears in the northern hemisphere’s tough season for winter sports, with satellite imagery revealing no snow cover in December and record temperatures destroying slopes in 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, a British alpine skier and Paralympic athlete, said: “I want to be proud of my sport… and I want others to experience the joys and challenges of winter sports.
“So it’s time for sports governing bodies to broaden their perspectives and find the courage to behave more like the athletes they purport to support.”
A spokesman for Preem said the company is phasing out fossil fuels and aims to complete its sustainable transition by 2035.
They added: “From a climate standpoint, we know that Preem is part of the problem, but also part of the solution.
“Preem has taken a stand and adopted the industry’s most ambitious climate target under the Paris Agreement.”
Volvo declined to comment.
“With their clean, healthy outdoor image, winter sports are particularly attractive to sponsors from major polluters who want to ‘launder sport’ their image,” the report argued.
Its authors call for an end to sponsorship of winter sports by “major polluters”.
“If global sport is to take climate breakdown seriously, it must … review its partnerships with organizations whose practices conflict with their efforts to protect the future of our planet,” they write.
But they refrain from telling sports stars to give up flying around the world for competitions or that ski resorts should stop using energy-intensive and water-intensive snowmaking machines.
However, they are asking those involved in the industry to ensure that their own operations – including viewer travel – will be carbon-neutral by 2030.
Badvertising’s Andrew Simms told Sky News that many athletes see it as an “unfortunate necessity” that they have to “travel long distances to practice their profession”.
But it’s “an entirely different thing when your sport is used as a billboard to promote high-carbon products,” he added.
“Just because it’s virtually impossible to live a carbon-free lifestyle, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support efforts moving in the right direction.”
Earlier this month, professional athletes wrote to their federation asking bosses to drastically improve the sustainability of winter sports, including by rescheduling to minimize travel.
Sky News contacted British Airways for comment.
Watch the Daily Climate Show at 3.30pm Monday to Friday and The Climate Show with Tom Heap Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.
All on Sky News, on the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.
The program explores how global warming is changing our landscape and points to solutions to the crisis.