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Coke shares lose fizz after Ronaldo snub

Should junk food be barred from sport? Today, Cristiano Ronaldo is emerging as the star player of this year’s Euros. But it is his actions off the pitch that are making headlines. With one flick of his hands, Cristiano Ronaldo wiped billions from the value of one of the world’s biggest companies. At a press conference ahead of Portugal’s opening Euro 2020 match, the footballer swiftly moved aside two bottles of Coca-Cola. Instead, he held aloft a bottle of water. “Agua,” he declared triumphantly to the waiting crowd of journalists. The fitness fanatic’s message to his fans was clear: water is best. Officials at UEFA were aghast. Coca-Cola had paid millions of pounds to sponsor the European Championship. This was not the advertising the company had in mind. But around the world, the Portuguese captain was hailed as a hero by healthy eating campaigners. “It is great to see a role model like Cristiano Ronaldo reject Coca-Cola for water, setting a positive example for young fans and showing his disdain for a cynical marketing attempt to link him with a sugary drink,” said Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance. Now, some are calling for a total ban on junk food brands sponsoring sporting events. Obesity rates are on the rise. Worldwide, nearly 40% of all adults are overweight. By the time children in the UK leave primary school, one in three will be overweight or obese. And activists say that advertising plays a huge role in the world’s obesity crisis. Each year, UK children watch an astonishing 15.1 billion adverts for products high in sugar, salt or fat. For some, the links between fast food brands and sporting stars are particularly dangerous. “It dishonestly perpetuates the myth that junk food is compatible with keeping healthy, as long as we ‘run it off’,” writes health policy expert Daniel Hunt. In March, Forest Green Rovers became the first UK football club to support a ban. “It’s scandalous that junk food brands sponsor sporting events,” said chairman Dale Vince. “These brands are using sport to improve the image of the stuff they sell and the stuff that they sell is fundamentally bad.” There have been success stories around the world. When Amsterdam barred junk food sponsorship eight years ago, childhood obesity rates fell by 12%. But not everyone agrees with a ban. After Cristiano Ronaldo’s protest last Monday, English manager Gareth Southgate and top player Harry Kane rushed to defend Coca-Cola. “There’s always a bigger picture,” claimed Southgate. “There are lots of sponsors in sport and the impact of their money at all levels helps sports to function.” Wimbledon is funded by Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Premiership Rugby relies on money from Greggs. Without sponsors, critics say, major sporting events beloved by fans, from the Olympics to the World Cup, could not afford to continue. Of course, corporate sponsors are not motivated purely by altruism. For some, Ronaldo’s gesture was a reminder of a comment made by a McDonald’s director nearly two decades ago. Sponsoring the Euros, said Jeff Wahl, is a great way to “build brand loyalty with kids”. Should junk food be barred from sport? Moving the goalposts Of course, say some. The average can of Coca-Cola contains nearly ten teaspoons of sugar. It is absurd that junk food brands are sponsoring elite athletes, the vast majority of whom stick to strict diets. Many who oppose a ban, like footballer Harry Kane, are paid to advertise sugary drinks. Obesity is a worldwide health crisis. Governments and sporting executives should work together to fight it. It is not so simple, say others. Major tournaments like the European Championships rely on fast food sponsors for funding. Clubs use money from corporate partners like Coca-Cola to encourage participation in sports and help their communities. And Gareth Southgate is right, everything can be done in moderation. Sponsors and clubs do not force people to overindulge in unhealthy foods. KeywordsCristiano Ronaldo - A Portuguese football player, known as one of the best in the world.

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