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Athlete activists have negative impact on sport – Australian media executive

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Athletes who agitate against sponsorships from certain companies for ethical reasons harm the growth of sport, a senior Australian media executive said on Wednesday.

Michael Miller, the Executive Chairman of News Corp Australasia, said in a panel discussion at the SportNXT conference that “stars” were a sports’ greatest strength but also potentially its greatest liability.

“When sporting stars become activists, it has a negative impact on the growth of the game, in terms of athletes choosing who their sponsors are and who they will and won’t work with,” Miller said.

“I find that athletes feel they have permission to make those statements, but other organisations wouldn’t accept it,” he added. “If you don’t want to work for that organisation, you leave and work elsewhere.”

News Corp enjoys a major influence on Australian sport through its broadcast contracts, which pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the country’s most popular leagues.

Miller said that high-profile athletes would not be hurt by the results of their lobbying against certain sponsors but it would have an impact further down the food chain.

“Their pay isn’t going to suffer, but ultimately it’s the grassroot and pathway programmes that will,” he said.

Ethical sponsorship has become a hot-button issue in Australian sport in recent years, with several athletes raising concerns about corporate backers.

Australia test cricket captain Pat Cummins said last year he wanted climate to be a “real priority” when choosing sponsors and said he had spoken to Cricket Australia boss Nick Hockley about his concerns.

In October last year, Cricket Australia agreed to cut short a multi-year sponsorship with Alinta Energy, citing a change in the energy company’s brand strategy.

That same month, Hancock Prospecting, owned by billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart, withdrew a A$15 million ($10.05 million) sponsorship from Netball Australia after players refused to wear the company’s logo on their kit.



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