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Greenwashing Environmental Campaigns Sustainability

Rugby World Cup threatens legal action over Greenpeace protest video


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

August 30, 2023 | 6 min read

The climate campaigners’ video flooded the Stade de France with oil in protest of TotalEnergies’ sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup – now it’s facing backlash.


Greenpeace France created a video in advance of the Rugby World Cup 2023 / Greenpeace

In a letter seen by The Drum, a representative from Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) contacted Greenpeace regarding the video ‘Total Pollution: A Dirty Game,’ which utilizes a number of RWCL’s registered trademarks, including the Rugby World Cup and Rugby World Cup France 2023 logos, as well as the trademarks and logos of its member unions and commercial partners of the tournament.

“Your use of the RWCL IP has not been authorized by RWCL and/or the relevant commercial partner or member unions and therefore infringes RWCL’s and their intellectual property rights,” it reads.

It goes on to order that “in order to avoid the need for formal legal proceedings,” Greenpeace should “immediately cease and desist” on the grounds that the intellectual property of RWCL has been used without authorization and that, if Greenpeace wishes to avoid legal proceedings, it should remove the video and “refrain from any such use again in the future.”

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A spokesperson from RWCL told The Drum it is not currently pursuing legal action but said: “There is guidance around the use of Rugby World Cup IP, which Greenpeace could have sought. This can be rectified.”

They added: “The France 2023 organizing committee reached out to engage with leading campaign groups and NGOs on shaping the tournament’s sustainability program. Greenpeace was the only one to decline.”

But Greenpeace maintains that its use of RWCL trademarks in the video is perfectly lawful, writing in its response to RWCL: “You state no legal basis for the demands issued to us and we fail to see that such a basis exists.”

It points to various articles in the EU Trademark Directive that permit trademark holders to object to use by third parties when the use occurs in the course of trade in relation to goods and services. In other words, Greenpeace may use a trademark as long as it’s not selling anything.

As the subject matter of the video is Greenpeace’s objection to TotalEnergies’ sponsorship of the games, the campaigning network tells The Drum it will not be removing the video. Furthermore, it says: “We will continue to draw attention to TotalEnergies’ sponsorship that aims to greenwash its climate-wrecking activities, which, in reality, is the reason there is a threat to the ‘goodwill and prestige associated with the tournament.’”

Campaigner Edina Ifticene adds: “Fossil fuel companies like TotalEnergies sponsor events like the Rugby World Cup to distract everyone from their climate destruction. The fossil-fuelled climate crisis has already started to negatively impact rugby itself: a typhoon disrupted the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan and major Pacific Island rugby nations are threatened by rising sea levels. And some of France’s host cities have decided to keep TotalEnergies out of their fan zones.

“Everyone is waking up to the fact that there is no place for fossil fuels, not in rugby or anywhere else. We will not be stopped from calling out the truth and will release the video.”

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RWCL’s spokesperson tells The Drum it is open to this conversation, saying: “We recognize the important debate around event sponsorship and openly engage with the rugby family, public and private sector stakeholders to further determine sustainable hosting models for our showcase rugby events, especially Rugby World Cup.”

It remains to be seen whether RWCL will pursue further action in light of Greenpeace’s refusal to rescind its campaign.

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