Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane defended Coca-Cola’s involvement in football as the England manager and captain refused to join a Cristiano Ronaldo-led protest against the drink on health grounds.
Portugal captain Ronaldo started a trend at the European Championship on Monday when he removed two Coca-Cola bottles from view during a press conference and made clear people should be drinking “agua” (water).
That was followed in the next two days by Pogba putting aside a bottle of non-alcoholic Heineken – seemingly for religious reasons – and Manuel Locatelli also proclaiming “acqua” when moving two bottles of Coca-Cola during press conferences of their own.
Scotland’s John McGinn also made light of there being “Nae Coke” at a press conference ahead of their game against England, Russia manager Stanislav Cherchesov casually took a swig from a bottle after his side’s win over Finland, and Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko moved bottles of Coca-Cola and Heineken closer to him before proclaiming: “Please contact me!”
But after Uefa warned it would start fining teams if players or managers continued to treat them with disdain, Southgate and Kane leapt to the defence of a company which is also a sponsor of the Football Association, and for which the England captain is a paid ambassador.
Southgate, who has also promoted the FA’s McDonald’s-backed community work, said: “There are lots of sponsors in sport and the impact of their money at all levels helps sport to function, particularly grassroots sport in our country requires a lot of investment and, without these companies investing, it’s very difficult to have the facilities we need.
“We are mindful of obesity and health but everything can be done in moderation. Anything partaken of in moderation is rarely a problem. I understand the concerns people have and the two guys [Ronaldo and Pogba] have different rationale for their stances they took. But there’s always a bigger picture.”
Kane added: “From my point of view, the sponsors are entitled to have what they want if they have paid the money to do so. It’s not something I have thought about too much, I am more focused on tomorrow.”
Speaking at another press conference shortly before England’s, Scotland midfielder Scott McTominay said: “It’s no issue that Coca-Cola is on the table. I’m not drinking it so they can leave it there all they like. They are sponsors of the tournament so are more than within their right to have it there. You don’t have to drink it.”
Ronaldo will not take part in Portugal’s latest European Championship press conference on Friday – avoiding him being forced to sit behind more bottles of Coca-Cola.
Telegraph Sport has been told that, despite press conferences on the eve of matches tending to featuring team captains, Ruben Dias will instead field questions ahead of his country’s game against Germany.
Ronaldo also skipped the official man-of-the-match press conference after Portugal’s 3-0 win over Hungary on Tuesday, instead conducting interviews in a mixed-zone environment away from Coke bottles.
England and Scotland’s refusal to join Ronaldo’s protest came as both prepared to promote another cause to which Southgate’s squad have become wedded, the taking of the knee before their matches.
That act has long enjoyed the approval of the football authorities but Uefa launched a crackdown on any further undermining of its lucrative sponsorship deals.
Confirming fines would be issued if there was any repeat of the Ronaldo incident, tournament director Martin Kallen said: “We will do this always through the participating national association and then they could look if they will go further to the player, but we are not going directly for the moment to the player.”
Kane and England team-mate Marcus Rashford became ambassadors for Coca-Cola at the start of the season and have starred in adverts to promote its sponsorship of Euro 2020.
Just last week, they posted links to those ads on their personal Twitter accounts, with Kane also writing: “That indescribable first taste of Coca-Cola, similar to the indescribable feeling of scoring a goal.”
Tam Fry, chairman of the UK’s National Obesity Forum and co-founder of the Child Growth Foundation, told the Daily Telegraph: “Rashford and Kane should take a good, hard look at what Ronaldo did and copy him.”
Fry said Rashford’s promotion of Coca-Cola was particularly “unfortunate” given his successful campaigning against child food poverty that made him one of the heroes of the coronavirus crisis.
A spokesperson for Rashford declined to comment.