Social Science blog

20 April 2012

Feeding the Olympics

Simone Bacchini writes: 

Sport may be good for you but food advertising during the Olympics may not. As the opening of the Games is now less than a hundred days away, another threat has appeared on the horizon. Forget terrorism, tube strikes, and the spectre of a flu-pandemic; all these we can cope with. The latest menace to be identified is far more insidious, and much more difficult to steer clear of: food. To be precise, it’s food advertising by way of sponsorships during the Olympics and Paralympics that has been singled out as a danger. Not to the Country’s security but to Olympic spectators’ waistlines, especially children’s. 

The BBC ( reports that campaigners from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) are calling for Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Cadbury to limit the visibility of their advertising which, they argue, sends out subliminal messages and encourages unhealthy eating and drinking habits, especially in children. 

I do not doubt that the AoMRC’s ‘War On Obesity’ is well-intentioned. Unquestionably, many diseases that plague our affluent society are linked to unhealthy eating habits, which are especially difficult to combat if acquired early in life. So I’m not surprised about this latest warning. What I find interesting is – once again – the way in which it is framed. What the AoMRC seem to object to the most is the apparent contradiction that emerges from the juxtaposition of lofty Olympic ideals with less desirable messages from Olympic sponsors. 

But is it realistic to ask the Olympics organisers to either refuse or limit the visibility of certain sponsors? I doubt it. The Games are not only a mega-event; they’re also a ‘mega-stage’. It is not only athletes that gain maximum exposure by taking part, it is also the sponsors. And the bigger the event gets, the bigger the need for sponsors and their cash. It may not be all about money, but it’s certainly a lot to do with it. “The greatest show on earth” doesn’t pay for itself, in spite of the ever increasing revenue from things such as broadcasting rights. 

“Money always talks louder than principles in sport”, writes Richard Godwin in London’s Evening Standard ( In his view, whether some of the major sponsors of London 2012 are “ethical” is highly debatable, to say the least. One may disagree with him, but it is undeniable that in the world of modern sports the distance between the official rhetoric and reality is far greater than the distance marathon runners need to cover. 

Is it only o question of size? Perhaps modern sport suffers from gigantism; having grown to be so big, it needs to be fed and one can’t be too picky about where the ‘food’ is coming from. And yet, as the AoMRC reminds us, nutrition matters. Should sport perhaps go on a diet?




J.A Davis, The Olympic Games Effect. Singapore: Wiley, 2012.

London reference collections shelfmark:

SPIS 796.0698 DAV 12


V. Packard, The Hidden Persuaders. London: Penguin, 1981.

London reference collections shelfmark:



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