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Tottenham blasted by environmental advocacy group for AIA shirt sponsors

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They’ve got a point!

Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Here’s the downside about Tottenham Hotspur being top of the Premier League (hey, by the way, did you know Tottenham Hotspur are at the top of the Premier League?): with the extra exposure comes a bunch of people gunning for you. I can’t say that’s the sole reason why Spurs are currently attracting criticism from an environmental activism group for their AIA kit sponsor, but it probably doesn’t help.

The gist is this: a group titled AIA Kick Out Coal notes that AIA, a pan-Asian life insurance company that has sponsored Tottenham’s shirts since 2014, holds nearly $6 billion in investments in the coal industry, something that they call Tottenham’s “dirty secret” for a club that otherwise has a pretty good record on environmental issues. The Guardian has a pretty good write-up on the case against AIA and how Tottenham fits in.

And you know what? They have a point! Coal is a pretty filthy thing to be investing in, especially in this day and age when there is a concerted push to embrace environmental policies that reduce carbon footprints and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent the planet from warming. Here’s a quote from one of the AIA Kick It Out spokesmen:

“We congratulate Spurs for being top of the league. They deserve a sponsor who is top of their own league and should call on AIA to drop all their toxic coal assets. Along with Champions League sponsor Gazprom, next World Cup host Qatar and several other Premier League shirt sponsors, AIA are an example for climate villains using football to launder their image. Tottenham Hotspur is a climate champion among football clubs and could set an example by calling on their sponsor to clean up their coal business.”

— Peter Bossard, Insure Our Future Campaign

It all seems a bit silly (and in some ways it is), but there’s a point behind it. Spurs do have a good track record for environmental awareness (as the Guardian correctly notes), which is precisely why AIA Kick It Out is going after them — it’s a lot easier to raise awareness of their campaign by going after the massive Premier League club that has AIA on the front of their kits than by putting the focus entirely on the pan-Asian insurance behemoth.

The campaigners are focusing on AIA and Tottenham because that is where they see the greatest potential for change. Both organisations publicly aspire to the highest standards of efficiency and sustainability. This, says the campaigners, does not align with a link to coal – the dirtiest of fossil fuels and the main source of the carbon dioxide that is disrupting the climate.

I’m not too bothered by this, to be honest. It’s worth noting that shirt sponsors are almost universally pretty bad — The Guardian notes that Chevrolet (Manchester United’s sponsor), Etihad (Manchester City) and Fly Emirates (Arsenal) are all super problematic sponsors just for environmental reasons alone. And that’s not even going into the large number of clubs that have gambling companies/websites, payday loan companies, or alcohol sponsoring their kits. Basically if you’re a company that has enough money to afford to put your logo on the front of a Premier League shirt, you’ve probably got some skeletons in your closet. (And let’s be honest, the main reason why Spurs fans hate AIA is because their logo is red.)

We discussed this as a masthead in the Cartilage Free Captain Slack channel and about the only thing we could come up with that was an example of a GOOD shirt sponsor was Leyton Orient, whose kits are sponsored by Harry Kane and who decided to use the shirts to promote the NHS and two local charities. So basically, it comes down to this: Tottenham just needs dump AIA and put Harry Kane’s face on the front of their shirts from now until the end of time. I think that’s something we can all get behind.