The World Cancer Research Fund, an international non-profit that works with cancer research organizations and charities, has spoken out against FIFA’s sponsor choices for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa, according to the BBC. The group characterized the international soccer authority’s partnerships with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s (PDF), Budweiser and other “unhealthy” sponsors as disappointing, and said that they send young fans the wrong message.
The general manager of the World Cancer Research Fund, Teresa Nightingale, told the BBC that soccer has the potential to be a significant force in the battle against childhood obesity as it is “a type of physical activity that is accessible to almost everyone,” and in the weeks ahead many young children will likely be “inspired by the skills of the likes of Rooney and Messi and try to repeat them in their back gardens and local parks in the same way as their parents and grandparents once tried to emulate Maradona and Pelé.”
Nightingale went on to say:
“It is disappointing that these companies have been chosen as sponsors and partners… The FIFA website describes sponsorship as an opportunity to promote brands on a global basis and we would argue that it is a real own goal to be giving this opportunity to companies that are known for unhealthy products.”
Yet critics of the charity’s comments say that they ignore the fact that these sponsorships enable grand-scale international tournaments such as the World Cup to happen in the first place, and that the sponsors being criticized are increasingly offering healthier food and beverage options in addition to their much-maligned products.
Ian Barber, spokesman for the Advertising Association, also told the BBC that the overall impact of advertising on children’s diet was likely “marginal” and dismissed the comments as “well-meaning” but effectively “misdirected rhetoric.”
Authors of a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association might question whether criticism of ad campaigns and sponsorships by corporations hawking low-nutrition products is in fact off the mark. As my colleague Alice Park reports for TIME, in this recent study, researchers from Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga analyzed the nutrition content of foods advertised during one month of prime time and Saturday morning television. Park writes:
“When the research team calculated the nutritional content of a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet containing only foods that were advertised on television, they found that it exceeded the government’s recommended daily amount of fat by 20 times and had 25 times the recommended daily intake of sugar.”
The FIFA World Cup in South Africa kicks off on Friday June 11 and billions of people around the globe are expected to tune in to watch this year’s 32 qualifying national teams compete. And, as in every World Cup since 1950, televised coverage will likely feature prominent placement of Coca-Cola logos. View a list of current World Cup sponsors and partners here.