The Rugby World Cup kicks off in France in eights days time and already things are turning prickly for tournament organisers Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL).
As reported on B&T last week, the environmental group Greenpeace is livid that one of the event’s major sponsors is French petroleum firm TotalEnergies.
So incensed, in fact, that Greenpeace unveiled a campaign lashing rugby bosses and sports organisers in general for taking sponsor dollars from fossil fuel companies.
The highly sensationalised, animated spot is called “TotalPollution: A Dirty Game” and shows torrents of oil spilling out of TotalEnergies logos dotted around the Stade de France, where France’s Les Bleus are set to play New Zealand’s All Blacks in the tournament’s opener next week.
According to Greenpeace, the global fossil fuel industry extracts enough oil to fill a stadium like the Stade De France every three-and-a-half hours.
Watch the offending ad below:
Understandably, the ad has got up the noses of rugby chiefs who’ve now called in their legal team.
The RWCL has sent Greenpeace a cease and desist letter, accusing it of “unauthorised activities” and misusing its and TotalEnergies’ intellectual property including the Rugby World Cup France 2023 logo.
The letter, which has since been reported in media, read: “Staging the Tournament is a major undertaking which requires significant financial investment. The goodwill and prestige associated with the Tournament is directly attributable to the very substantial financial and other efforts and resources which RWCL has invested and is continuing to invest in the management, development and commercialisation of the Tournament.
“To ensure the success and viability of the Tournament, and the future growth and development of the sport of Rugby Union as a whole, RWCL is obliged to ensure that commercial rights associated with the Tournament are only used by commercial partners that have entered into an agreement entitling them to use such rights. RWCL is therefore concerned to protect its and its commercial partners’ goodwill and rights.”
The letter went on to say that if Greenpeace wanted to avoid a costly court battle it required them to “immediately cease and desist” from using the logos, and to immediately remove the ad from Youtube and any other platforms.
Not that Greenpeace was having any of it.
Greenpeace France spokesperson Edina Ifticene said: “The Rugby World Cup has sent Greenpeace International a legal letter to try to force it not to publish our video, but we won’t be silenced.
“Fossil fuel companies like TotalEnergies sponsor events like the Rugby World Cup to distract everyone from their climate destruction. The fossil-fuelled climate crisis has already started to negatively impact rugby itself – a typhoon disrupted the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, and major Pacific Island rugby nations are threatened by rising sea levels.
“Everyone is waking up to the fact that there is no place for fossil fuels, not in rugby, or anywhere else. We will not be stopped from calling out the truth and will release the video,” Ifticene said.
There has been no update on whether any legal action would be taken.
A spokesperson for the RWCL told news site NationalWorld: “Rugby World Cup 2023 is committed to a responsible tournament with society and the environment at its heart.
“Tournament delivery supports World Rugby’s Environmental Sustainability Plan 2030, centring on low-carbon mobility, such as trains, and the use of existing infrastructure for competition and training venues to reduce the event’s carbon footprint,” they added.
“We recognise the important debate around event sponsorship and openly engage with the rugby family, public and private sector stakeholders to further determine sustainable hosting models for our showcase rugby events, especially Rugby World Cup.”
A TotalEnergies spokesperson told NationalWorld it was “wrong to claim that TotalEnergies is greenwashing by sponsoring the Rugby World Cup 2023”.
“With the Rugby World Cup, TotalEnergies is sponsoring an international sporting event taking place in France, the company’s home country, where we have nearly 35,000 employees, hundreds of sites, millions of customers and a strong local presence.
“In particular, this event is an opportunity for the company to raise awareness of the multi-energy dimension of our activities and our ambition to be a major player in the energy transition, committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, together with society,” they said.