What Sports Events Have Been Targeted by Just Stop Oil Protestors?

Climate justice
Mark Dixon / Flickr.com

Sporting events being intentionally disrupted by a group or an individual is nothing remotely unusual or new. Often sporting events are used as a platform to highlight a particular political, social, environmental or religious cause.  Just before a Euro 2020 match between Germany and France, a Greenpeace protestor parachuted into the stadium with a ‘Kick Out Oil’ message written on the parachute. Over in America, animal rights activists targeted several Minnesota Timberwolves games as the governor of the NBA team also owned a factory farm.

Examples of Disruptions in Sports Due to Protests

Other examples include former Irish priest Neil Horan who disrupted both the 2004 Olympic Marathon and the 2003 F1 British Grand Prix in order to promote Christianity. In the case of the latter, he ran onto the track waving banners that read “Read the bible” and “The Bible is always right.” Showing just how no sport is immune from such incidents, we will lastly point you to a 2015 ice hockey match involving Israel that was delayed by 45 minutes as pro-Palestine protestors chucked red marbles onto the ice.

Although in most cases, groups or sole individuals have a cause they are passionate about it, not all sporting disruptions have to have such a purpose. Sometimes they can just be for the thrill (see streakers) or the increasingly common trend of trying to get a quick selfie with a player. Very occasionally you can also have examples of spectators wanting to harm athletes. This infamously happened to former tennis star Monica Seles during a match in Hamburg in which she was stabbed. Footballers have often been targeted too, with Jack Grealish, Jetro Willems and Keinan Davis being examples of three players that have been punched mid-game by angry fans.

While disturbances can come in all forms, rarely do you see such an organised and committed approach from just one group. Whether you agree with their cause and method or not, there is no denying that Just Stop Oil are extremely effective at being disruptive. Despite an increase in security in recent years across sports, their protestors still find ways of slipping through the cracks. Of course, the foiled efforts do not make the headlines but they have still been successful on a significant number of occasions.

Who Are Just Stop Oil?

Just Stop Oil logoBefore moving on to the events that Just Stop Oil protestors have found themselves halting, it is worth taking a brief look at the group itself. They are a relatively new environmental activist group, established in February 2022. Their name itself is a little misleading as they do not wish to eradicate the use of oil in the UK. Instead, their main demand is that the UK government “stop licensing all new oil, gas and coal projects”.

Why Do They Target Sports?

Much like similar environmental activist groups like Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, their main method of protesting is through general social disruption. This includes actions such as blocking busy roads, glueing themselves to artwork and spray-painting buildings. Sports are often targeted too, not because there is an objection to them specifically, but simply because they are well-watched and any disturbance creates headlines. Such methods have proven unpopular with the general public, especially road blocking, but the protestors have stuck with it despite thousands of arrests and some custodial sentences.

Just Stop Oil’s commitment to disruption and nuisance is likely preferred over peaceful, non-disruptive protests for a few reasons. Firstly, disruptive action is harder for governments to ignore and it is much better at making headlines (there is no such thing as bad publicity as the adage goes). Secondly, Just Stop Oil’s more extreme action will benefit more moderate environmental groups. This is what is known as the ‘radical flank effect’. Lastly, there is a general sense of ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ and for the group, the seriousness of the situation requires more than just waving banners.

List of Sporting Events Targeted by Just Stop Oil

Arsenal vs Liverpool
Arsenal vs Liverpool (Crystian Cruz / Flickr.com)

It is very likely that this list will grow over time but it is accurate at the time of writing. There were some fears that the group would target the 2023 edition of the London Marathon, having refused to rule out action, but the race ended without any disturbance whatsoever.

Arsenal v Liverpool (16th March 2022)

The first sporting event that Just Stop Oil targeted was a high-profile football match involving two English giants, Arsenal and Liverpool. The sole pitch-invader, Kai, aged 20, ran onto the turf armed with some quick-drying glue which he put on his hands as he wrapped himself around one of the goalposts. The glue did not dry quickly enough though as the stewards managed to separate his grip within just a few seconds, meaning the game was only very briefly delayed.

Kai admitted that as the group is new was new to this kind of action, it is not surprising that it did not go according to plan. He also pointed out that he was very careful not to impact the match itself, by running on when there was a dangerous attack, for example. Instead, he timed it when there was a natural break in the play (a goal-kick).

Everton v Newcastle (17th March 2022)

In a distinctly different approach, Louis McKechnie took a zip tie with him, rather than glue, when attending Goodison Park. Additionally, he ran onto the pitch behind the goal just as Newcastle swung a cross into the box. In the few seconds he had available, the engineering student managed to successfully secure the zip tie around his neck and the goalpost. With no way of quickly removing the 21-year-old, security personnel had to dig around for a pair of bolt cutters to set him free. They eventually managed this, using an obscenely large pair of cutters, but by this point the match had been paused for almost 10 minutes.

This particular stunt landed McKechnie in real trouble and he was sentenced to six weeks in prison. Although terrified about going to prison, he later revealed in an interview with LBC that he largely received a warm welcome from fellow inmates. The response was so warm in fact, that McKechnie said that his experience has emboldened him to take future action, regardless of whether prison or not is a consequence.

Wolves v Leeds (18th March 2022)

Having struck twice in the previous two days, you would think security staff would have been on high alert for this fixture but there is only so much you can do to stop someone running on the pitch. Early in the second half, a lone protestor darted towards Jose Sa’s right goalpost, hoping to tie himself to it.

On this occasion though he was tackled by stewards before he could lock himself in, meaning the game only suffered a very brief halt. As such, this incident did not gather the same levels of media attention as the previous night, but most in the ground will have seen the ‘Just Stop Oil’ T-shirt the protestor had on.

Tottenham v West Ham (March 20th 2022)

By the time of this disruption, there had been a growing sense that Just Stop Oil protestors were just eco-warriors with no interest whatsoever in football. This was not the case here though as one protestor, Nathan McGovern, said he thoroughly enjoyed the three-goal first half of West Ham’s visit to Tottenham. The Coventry City fan certainly had no gripe with the sport but ultimately his passion for Just Stop Oil was that bit greater. In this instance, he was one of several people that tried to attach themselves to the goalpost, at both ends of the pitch, in a rare coordinated effort.

Despite the increase in numbers, stewards were hot on the tails of the protestors, with all of them quickly escorted away before they could fix themselves in place. Six people were charged at Highbury Corner magistrates court for their involvement in the Monday night pitch invasion with the result being a three-year ban from attending a football match. None of them, unlike McKechnie, faced a custodial sentence, however.

F1 British Grand Prix (3rd July 2022)

Just Stop Oil protests that have run onto football pitches have often expressed how terrified they were facing the wrath of thousands of angry fans. For most people this would be daunting enough but how about sitting down on a Formula 1 track during a live race? Despite the dangers posed, the group did claim in court that safety considerations had formed a huge part of their preparation. One of the six defendants claimed he had watched all 20 previous races at Silverstone and based on this, chose part of the course where there was plenty of room to pass and where the racing line was on the far side.

The group of five protestors (the other protestor was in the car park gathering supplies) also ran on following a multi-car crash on the first lap, which resulted in the red flag being waved. Before they were ushered off the track by marshals, only two drivers had gone past them, Yuki Tsunoda and Esteban Ocon, both at reduced speeds. Despite their claims of a high-safety operation, the prosecutors argued that there was an “immediate risk of serious harm” to the drivers, race marshals and themselves.

The jury sided with the defence on this occasion, believing the group were guilty of causing a public nuisance, following nearly nine hours of deliberation. All of them avoided jail time, however. Three were handed suspended prison terms while the other three were given 12-month community orders. One of those sentenced was the Goodison Park invader, Louis McKechnie, who at the time of sentencing had only been out of prison for a few months.

World Snooker Championships (March 18th 2023)

Snooker is not an obvious target for staging a protest but the lack of security made it an appealing option for Just Stop Oil. During the World Snooker Championships, an event that does enjoy a lot of coverage, two protestors donning Just Stop oil T-shirts tried to disrupt both games that were happening at the time. On the table featuring Mark Allen and Fan Zhengyi, the protestor tried to glue themselves to the table but was foiled by referee Olivier Marteel.

Nobody could stop Eddie Whittingham on the other side of the divide though, as he successfully climbed onto the table before pouring a packet of orange paint powder over himself. Attempts were made to vacuum the powder out of the cloth but it was later determined that the formerly green material was damaged beyond repair. As a result, the match between Robert Milkins and Joe Perry match was delayed for 24 hours before it could resume.

Regardless of your views on the action taken, the images from the World Snooker Championships on that day were quite striking. The orange powder spread all over the normally pristine green cloth ended up featuring in newspaper articles across the country. While extremely effective at gaining publicity, many involved in snooker were displeased at the action of the protestors. Mark Allen called them “idiots” while former World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn called upon tough punishments to be handed out.

After the incident, a Just Stop Oil spokesperson said they will “continue disrupting cultural and sporting events”. Time will tell just how true this is. While the passion for the cause does seem to be there at present, activist groups can sometimes suffer from in-fighting or simply decide to change their tactics.