10 May 2024

Fiji's Coca-Cola Games will consider dropping branding for 50th edition in 2025

2:21 pm on 10 May 2024
A Coca Cola bottle.

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The director of Fiji's biggest sporting event says it will drop the name and branding of Coca-Cola for next year's 50th anniversary - if they can find " a safer brand" to support the competition.

Organisers of the Coca-Cola Games have been discussing how to limit branding of the sugary-drink company from the youth athletics event, which has long been a staple for thousands of school students and their families.

The secondary school athletics competition took place in early May, with 2883 students from 155 secondary schools competing.

The games boast of being a breeding ground for national sporting icons, such as former Pacific sprint champion Banuve Tabakaucoro.

Secondary Schools Athletics Association acting secretary and 2024 Coca-Cola Games competition director, Biu Colati, said these games are tied to almost every Fijian home and every Fijian hero.

"Fijians like Joeli Vidiri who went on to be an All Blacks player in rugby. He took gold here as a runner in one of the games."

However, the brand deal with Coca-Cola is expiring next year and organisers have agreed to look for new sponsors, Colati told RNZ Pacific.

"Unfortunately our sponsors happen to be Coca-Cola. We have now discovered that sugary drinks are not appropriate for kids.

"Come next year, you might not be able to see anything called Coke.

"We will now call it the Fiji Finals. We will need to change the brands on everything we use," he added.

In 2019, the event defended its sponsorship, saying the sponsorship came from the company, not the drink itself; and only Powerade (sports drink) and Fiji Water were given to children competing, not the carbonated soft drink.

RNZ Pacific has contacted Coca-Cola for comment.


Pacific Health expert Sir Colin Tukuitonga said Coca-Cola should never have been funding the athletics meet and it was "unacceptable" for it to still be sponsoring youth sporting events.

"It's totally inappropriate in this day and age," Sir Colin said.

"This is a significant national event and no doubt there will be other sponsors who would support it."

Fiji's population is struggling with rising rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and promoting sugary drinks does not help that, he said.

This year, athletes were offered fruit juice, water and diet Coca-Cola as beverage options at the competition.

Colati said the soft drink giant had overall been flexible and provided over FJ$200,000 (over US$86,000) towards running the nearly week-long event.

He said there were no strings attached and "nothing binding" keeping them from making small changes and reducing branding.

"If we are given a safer brand then of course we will start considering that. It is fair all of these changes will be happening for next year."

Tukuitonga said the same situation happened in New Zealand when a tobacco company was sponsoring the National Rugby League (NRL).

"They complained there will be no more sport and they would not be able to continue to offer the competition.

"But the reality is the sponsors were found."

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