Yesterday I was innocently surfing the English Schools Table Tennis Website when I was most surprised to learn that a new sponsor by the name of Heritage Oil is now sponsoring one of ESTTA’s premier events. I assumed that In an age when many companies and public institutions are starting to disinvest from fossil fuels, an organisation like ESSTA would have nothing to do with global oil. It seems however that ESTTA is heading in entirely the opposite direction. My curiosity was further tweeked as I did a little more surfing, and low and behold it transpires that Table Tennis England, the governing body of table tennis, is also in bed with Heritage Oil. Now while I fully appreciate that relatively small organisations like Table Tennis England and The English ESTTA are desperate for corporate sponsors, I couldn’t help but wonder at the wisdom of such a move. After all, just today there was a major article in The Observer 21/6/15 which unambiguously pointed out that our planet is facing another planet wide extinction moment, only this time it is not by meteorite or volcano but by our very own human activity. And burning fossil fuels for energy is at the very heart of this extinction threat .Surely an organisation such as ESTTA, based as it is entirely in schools, would show a little more discretion as to who it accepted money from. But the story gets a whole lot more nasty once one digs a little deeper.

It transpires that Heritage Oil, which has just been bought out by the Qataris is up to its neck in tax avoidance, gun running and mercenary armies up to and including, it is alleged, orchestrating national coups. Remember that business with Mark Thatcher and the Congo? It seems the CEO of Heritage Oil was himself implicated in that sordid little business. Heritage Oil it is alleged, specialises in marching into conflict zones with its own militia, offering to protect oil and other valuable minerals from one or other of the warring protagonists. The ultimate opportunist strategy.

More recently, Heritage Oil has been in dispute with the Ugandan government over tax payments or should I say lack of them. (No wonder they have money to splosh about for some UK sports sponsorships) If you want to get an immediate feel for this company that English table tennis is snuggling up with, you need look no further than where the company has officially based itself. You guessed it; the Channel Islands, Britain’s very own back door tax haven. Like most global companies, Heritage Oil is mired in allegations of local exploitation, environmental destruction and of course, tax evasion. On top of that there is the question of indigenous land rights which all big oil corporations seem to have zero sympathy for. But Heritage Oil it seems as well as the above, has its very own speciality; providing guns and mercenaries to the highest bidder. If you want the sordid details about Heritage Oil it is easily accessed via Goggle.

A good example of what is available on the net is from the campaigning website; Here is a sample of what’s on offer;

‘Heritage has a controversial path of moving into conflict zones and countries ridden by civil war. CEO Tony Buckingham – himself a former mercenary – describes this as “a first mover strategy of entering regions with vast hydrocarbon wealth where we have a strategic advantage.” In other words, by entering resource rich regions while guns are still blazing, Heritage can secure excessively profitable deals .This company is repeating this strategy in country after country.’

For a really detailed account of Heritage Oil’s alleged shady activities see They really have done the investigative journalism bit and the picture that emerges is not a pretty one.


All this raises some very difficult question for sporting bodies. Just who should they accept sponsorship from? After all, which corporation can genuinely boast a clean back history and an ethically sound forward looking strategy? Not too many I would imagine. But the real  answer to this seemingly intractable question is actually quite simple. Sporting and cultural organisations should not be left in the financially vulnerable position where they have to go begging to the corporate sector. The government should be morally and legally obliged to fund such community based organisations from the national exchequer ie tax revenues.  After all, sporting and cultural organisations are as valuable to the well-being of society as schools, hospitals and universities. In fact they complement each other.

While we might applaud the industriousness of ESTTA and Table Tennis England for securing these sponsorship deals, in the long term, ethical considerations must come before the fast buck however desperately tempting that ‘dirty money’ may be.

End JPK Copyright 21/6/15

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 21 June 2015 18:26 )