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Time for sport to play its part: stop free kicks for fossil fuels


September 26, 2023 — 5.00am

This year the Matildas have reminded us about the power of sport and its ability to bring people together.

They inspired a generation of young people and gave us all a sense of pride in both our football team and our country.

We should be questioning sponsorships by companies that have no plans to decarbonise and threaten the very sports they sponsor.

We should be questioning sponsorships by companies that have no plans to decarbonise and threaten the very sports they sponsor.Credit: Getty Images

With this sort of power, it’s no surprise sport has been at the forefront of some of Australia’s most critical movements for social change, from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to calling out racism against First Nations people and the struggle for LGBTIQ+ rights and equality.

At its best, sport can be a unifying force for positive change in our country.

It’s time for sport to step up and play its part when it comes to the biggest global threat humans have faced – climate change.

We know climate change threatens the people and places we love, including the sports we love and our way of life.

“It’s not the resources industry that is the issue here ... the issue here is fossil fuel companies like Woodside trying to maximise profits while they still can.”

The situation facing the Fremantle Dockers is a perfect example of the kinds of decisions sport is facing.

They’re currently debating whether they should keep a major fossil fuel company – Woodside Energy – as their major sponsor.

The company has partnered with the club since 2010. And, despite everything we’ve learned in that time about climate change and the increasingly devastating impacts it’s having, Woodside continues to double down on fossil fuel expansion.


Last year, they became one of the world’s 10 largest fossil fuel companies after buying up BHP’s massive array of oil and gas assets.

They also decided to push ahead with their destructive new Burrup Hub gas development. If it goes ahead, it will be Australia’s dirtiest fossil fuel project.

And it’s not just gas, Woodside is also opening new oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Senegal – all of this flying in the face of expert advice from the International Energy Agency, IPCC authors and the UN that the world can’t afford any new fossil fuel projects if we want a safe climate.

Of course, it’s not just Woodside, they and Freo are a current case in point, but we’ve also seen another gas giant, Santos, sponsoring the Wallabies, among others.

I know as an athlete you have sponsors you don’t agree with, there’s often a tension there. But we should be questioning sponsorships by companies that have no plans to decarbonise and threaten the very sports they sponsor.

I can already hear the outrage from the gas industry’s highly paid lobbyists at an ACT senator sticking his nose into WA and the Dockers’ business. But this is an issue that affects us all.

As someone who spent years in WA, and who married a West Australian, I know how important the resources industry is to the state.

It’s not the resources industry that is the issue here. There is an exciting future for mining the metals and minerals we need for the energy transition. The issue here is fossil fuel companies like Woodside trying to maximise profits while they still can, opening up new oil and gas despite the record heat and climate disasters we are already seeing around the world.

As they, rightly, come under increasing criticism and scrutiny for their continued fossil fuel expansion, it helps Woodside hang onto any last vestige of their social licence by partnering with a beloved and trusted brand like Freo, adored by so many West Australians.

Rather than being supported, the Fremantle Dockers are being used by Woodside in their attempts to greenwash their image with the WA community.

A few years ago, I was lucky to be part of the first big moment of Australian athletes taking a stand for the communities we love.

Almost 500 athletes put their names to an open letter calling for the Australian government to lift their ambition in tackling climate change in the lead-up to COP26.

Fremantle had among the highest number of players from a single club signing on. It was also players who led an historic effort at the Dockers to create a new sustainability framework last year, which includes taking “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” as a key priority.


Sport needs to continue being a driver of the change we so desperately need.

As 21-year-old Freo local, Dockers fan and Australia Youth Climate Coalition state co-ordinator, Jemima Williamson-Wong, told this masthead: “Why would young people want to become a Fremantle member when it means partnering with a company blatantly fuelling climate destruction?”

I urge the Dockers board, and every other professional sporting organisation in the country, to consider the science as well as the legal liabilities a failure to adequately act on climate creates for the club and for their legacy.

Climate change poses a huge threat to all sports. Clubs have a responsibility to protect their staff, players, members and fans.

If sport continues to partner with fossil fuels, all of these things are at risk.

We know the power sport has to inspire and unite us, to help us stay healthy and active, and to build community.

It’s time for them to stop allowing all that good to be used by fossil fuel companies clinging on to a way of making profits that puts us all at risk.

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