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Climate change is transforming the world of sports

Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity, and the awareness of this fact has been rapidly growing. Today, no industry can afford to ignore the ongoing crisis. So what is its impact on sports, and how are sport organisations, competitions, and teams dealing with it? Learn more with STATSCORE.

What is the climate change’s impact on sports?

Natural disasters, floods and bushfires, air pollution, rising sea levels. It seems that no day can go by without a tragic event related to the changing climate. The extreme weather conditions also have a very direct impact on the world’s major sporting events, and pose challenges to leagues and competition organisers.

The last Australian Open was threatened by poor air quality caused by widespread fires. Canada’s favourite pastime, ice hockey, which has traditionally been played on frozen lakes and ponds, is gradually becoming an indoor-only sport in some parts of the country. In the US, sports stadiums and arenas are dealing with extreme storms and floodings. Ski competitions in Norway are being cancelled due to a lack of snow. Air pollution and high temperatures are making it increasingly risky to run marathons (the smog-ridden New Delhi being possibly the most egregious example) or engage in cycling.

The situation around the 2022 FIFA World Cup (for the first time to be held in the Middle East) may be the most evocative example of the crisis, as the most popular sporting event in the world had to be postponed to November and December, because of the unbearable heat.

How are sporting organisations combating climate change?

The relationship of sports with the environment is not an easy one. Let’s just think about all the carbon impact and pollution generated by fans travelling around the world to watch their teams play.

However, we can already see some impressive signs of change in attitudes.

The United Nations Sports for Climate Action is a framework created to encourage sports organizations and their stakeholders to fight for climate neutrality. It declares that the goal of this global community is to combat climate change by following specific standards, promoting environmental responsibility, measuring and reducing gas emissions. Its aim is also to use sports as a unifying force to promote climate action globally.

Currently, there are about 100 signatories of the UN framework, including the International Olympic Committee, FIFA, UEFA, NBA, Formula 1 (which announced a plan to become net-zero carbon by 2030), World Rugby, and German Football Association (DFB).

How are sporting events becoming more eco-friendly?

Let’s now take a look at a few examples of sporting events that put their money where their mouth is when it comes to climate!

1. Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – a new kind of sporting event?

The organising committee of this year’s Olympic Games wants the event to be the most sustainable one in the modern history of the competition. Under the Be better, together – For the planet and the people slogan, they are implementing innovative actions and policies, such as:

  • reusing or recycling 99% of procured items and goods,
  • using vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells,
  • building athletes’ village built from locally sourced wood (40,000 pieces of timber donated by 63 Japanese municipal governments),
  • Tokyo 2020 Medal Project – medals produced from parts of millions of phones and other devices,
  • staff and volunteer uniforms made from sustainable materials.

2. Forest Green Rovers – the greenest football club on earth

The Forest Green Rovers, based in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, England, has been named the world’s first carbon-neutral football club by the United Nations.

The club, currently competing in League Two, has introduced such measures as:

  • solar panels,
  • electric car charging points,
  • water recycling,
  • vegan menu for players and fans.

Many bigger and more famous clubs have also undertaken environmental actions. For example, all the seats on Ajax Amsterdam’s stadium are recycled (and 10% of the plastic used was collected from the ocean).

3. Super Bowl getting more sustainable

The NFL is also taking up environmental efforts. The Super Bowl Environmental Program includes:

  • food recovery systems aiming to give all the unused food to local organizations,
  • waste management and recycling building materials,
  • donation of gently used decorations, office supplies to local non-profits.

This year’s Super Bowl has focused on a new initiative, called Ocean to Everglades. Its goals included increasing beach cleanups, utilizing mangrove planting, and creating coral restoration.

These examples show us that it is possible to enjoy sport on a professional level without causing environmental damage. It’s certainly not easy, but it is a challenge that everybody (fans, clubs, leagues, organisations) will have to meet.

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