Why bar chocolate from the Games?

The campaign to stop Cadbury sponsoring the 2012 Games is based on the idea that we’re all slaves to ‘junk food’.

The worst thing about the current economic crisis has to be the frequent suggestions that ours should be an age of austerity; hairshirts are the new black. Yet the metaphorical hairshirt has been à la mode since around the time Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone made donations to Tony Blair - allegedly to allow cigarette sponsorship to continue in the sport while it was banned in most others. We’ve been on a helter-skelter of puritanism ever since.

In fact, so puritanical have we become that ‘unhealthy’ food is now seen as on a par with tobacco as a poisonous influence that should have no place in sports. Bernie might have to pay another visit to Number 10 if he fancies a chunk of chocolate money for Formula One, because pressure groups are kicking up a fuss about ‘junk’ food sponsorship of sports.

For example, the National Obesity Forum (NOF) has deplored Cadbury’s sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympic Games, saying this goes against the government’s avowed aim to tackle obesity. The BBC labelled Cadbury ‘the most controversial Olympic sponsor so far’.

In other words, chocolate is now seen as a vice, which along with things like tobacco, alcohol and gambling is ruinous to our physical and social health. In truth, it seems this ‘war on chocolate’ is a case of lobbyists looking to the government to extend its paternalistic interventions in advertising to whatever trivial case suits lobbyists’ particular gripe.

Cadbury sponsored the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games of 2002 and 2006, without any complaints. So how come they are now suddenly regarded as a ‘controversial’ sponsor?

The current campaigning against Cadbury’s sponsorship of the 2012 Games are using a much more subtle argument than ‘chocolate is bad’ to get their views heard. As Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum told me: ‘I have nothing against chocolate per se, I just think that chocolate and sports don’t mix.’

Fry did point out that chocolate is a good source of energy, but he said that ‘athletes are aware of how to take it in moderation’. The NOF seem to be suggesting that sport sponsorship should be linked to the sport itself and be about the athletes partaking in it, despite the fact that this has never been the case in the history of sports advertising.

Obviously, footballers like the odd drink and a gamble, and a fair few Formula One drivers smoke. However, what brands have historically tried to do is associate their product with the feelgood factor of sport and not the athletic prowess of its participants.

This is why football’s top division in England was sponsored by Carling lager and the rugby union premiership is currently sponsored by Guinness. The campaigns focused on the social aspect of watching sport and not the self-discipline many of the athletes need to maintain their abilities in competitive leagues. Hence, Cadbury has paid close on £30million to have the 2012 logo on their chocolate bars and the exclusive rights to sell their confectionary at the Games itself. This is not in order to pretend that chocolate bars are part of some spartan, healthy lifestyle, but to take advantage of the massive amount of interest worldwide that the Games is going to generate.

Implicit in the NOF’s observation that athletes are aware of how to consume chocolate responsibly is the suggestion that consumers are not, as if people are like goldfish, incapable of stopping themselves from devouring any food in sight. Fry is happy with Coca-Cola as a sponsor because it has diet versions and McDonalds is fine as athletes such as Michael Phelps use it for fuel. His concern is that consumers don’t know when to stop or how to say ‘no’.

It is this latter point, which however subtly put, reinforces the government’s view of people as hapless victims of advertisers with no will or common sense. The NOF is particularly concerned for children, stating that the young are especially impressionable and that schoolchildren are now spending around £485million a year on fizzy drinks and chocolate. It does sound like quite a lot - but that’s an average of just £1 per week for the 10million children under age 11 in the UK.

What this debate ignores is that Cadbury is the perfect brand to be a 2012 sponsor: it’s as quintessentially English as the Routemaster and Jimmy Page. Considering London Games is supposed to be the ‘yoof, innit?’ Olympics, what better way to promote it than to have its logo emblazoned on the bars of chocolate that kids buy with their hard earned (sorry, nagged-for) pocket money? Given the audience that such confectionery attracts, the 2012 organisers should be thanking Cadbury for the publicity and they should ignore the puritan war on chocolate.

Henry Williams is a former intern at spiked.

Duleep Allirajah is away.

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spiked-issue: Sport

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