The Parramatta Eels have faced calls from the community to reconsider their multi-year sponsorship deal with James Hardie, a former asbestos manufacturer. The deal, set to begin in 2025, recalls the company's previous sponsorship from 1981 to 1995, a nostalgic period during which the Eels won four premierships.

Hardie was once Australia's largest producer of asbestos materials, which can cause severe health issues like lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Although the company ceased asbestos production in 1987, around 4,000 Australians still die annually from asbestos exposure. Victims fought for compensation for years, even after Hardie relocated to the Netherlands in 2001.

The company eventually established a $4 billion compensation fund, but the legal battles left deep scars.

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Barry Robson, President of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation, urged the Eels to reject the sponsorship.

“Don't do it,” Robson said, via the ABC.

“To see the name Hardie on these football jumpers will trigger in some families memories of loved ones that have died from being exposed to these James Hardie products.”

Tony Khoury, former executive director of the Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association of NSW, echoed Robson's sentiments. He recounted personal tragedies linked to asbestos exposure and criticised the sponsorship.

“The Parramatta Eels should reconsider their position on this James Hardie sponsorship,” Khoury said.

“The many victims of asbestos and any surviving family members will continually be reminded of the tragic issues associated with asbestos.”

In response, Parramatta released a statement expressing their enthusiasm for rekindling the historic partnership.

“Eels fans will remember the club's previous association with James Hardie as major sponsor from 1981 to 1995, which coincided with the greatest period in the club's history,” said CEO Jim Sarantinos.

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Hardie's CEO, Aaron Erter, spoke strongly of the company's long-standing presence in Australia.

“James Hardie has been proudly providing Australian Made building products to Sydney and Australia for over 100 years,” Erter said.

John Arneil, President of James Hardie APAC, acknowledged the company's controversial history.

“We recognise and acknowledge our history, part of which includes the use of asbestos in the building materials products manufactured by James Hardie's former subsidiaries until the mid-1980s," he said.

"To date we have paid approximately $2.2 billion to fund compensation payments and asbestos education and medical research.”