When Cristiano Ronaldo removed two bottles of Coca-Cola that were placed in front of him ahead of a press conference during Euro 2020, neither he nor the world probably knew what that would trigger. It was a simple enough statement by an elite athlete who is famous for how he treats his body: “Don’t drink Coke, drink water instead.”
Following Ronaldo’s removal of the Coca-Cola bottles — which was already noteworthy because Coca-Cola is one of the tournament’s biggest sponsors and pays big bucks to have their drinks front and center during press conferences — the company’s share price dipped from $56.10 to $55.22, which caused Coca-Cola’s market value to decrease by $4 billion.
The video of Ronaldo, predictably, went viral on social media. People know that Coke is an empty-calorie soft drink, but it took the most-followed person on Instagram and one of the most famous faces in the world to point out the hypocrisy of an unhealthy drink being front and center at a football tournament. Like anything, a soft drink is fine in moderation, but we enter problematic territory when it’s tacitly endorsed by superstar athletes — idols to kids everywhere — at a major tournament.
CR7 is meticulous when it comes to his training methods and preparation. He reportedly has a cryotherapy chamber installed at his own home, follows a strict diet, and never compromises when it comes to his body. It’s why he has consistently been one of the two best players on this planet for over a decade. It makes sense that he would take this stance, although it was still somewhat surprising, as Ronaldo has never really been the most outspoken when it comes to social or political issues.
Paul Pogba made a similar statement soon by removing a bottle of Heineken beer from the table ahead of his press conference, no doubt spurred on by Ronaldo’s statement. Pogba’s motivations might have been a little different to Ronaldo’s however, as the Manchester United star is a devout Muslim and will have removed the beer bottle because of it. Regardless of the motivation, it’s still a player who is a role model to millions of children and young adults, removing a harmful substance from the TV cameras’ view.
Italian player Manuel Locatelli mimicked Ronaldo’s anti-Coca-Cola message following Italy’s win against Switzerland yesterday. The player moved both Coke bottles out of the way and put his water bottle in the middle.
As we’ve seen over the past 18 months, many athletes are becoming more outspoken on issues that they may have stayed quiet on previously. Football players have kneeled before games in their domestic leagues in support of the fight against racial inequality, and players such as Marcus Rashford have gone to great lengths to help disadvantaged members of their communities.
The fact that multiple players have now taken a stand against some of UEFA’s biggest sponsors has put the association in a tough spot. A UEFA spokesperson said: “Players are offered water, alongside Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, on arrival at our press conferences,” before pointing out that people have different tastes or needs.
Considering the backlash could worsen if UEFA tries to force players to stop removing sponsors’ drinks, it’s probably in their best interest to stay as neutral on the issue as possible. It remains to be seen if further players will follow in Ronaldo’s footsteps, though it’s safe to say that the world has already noticed.