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Sport and climate change


Sport and climate change

Sport may not be the most obvious tool for addressing global environmental issues, but it can play an important role.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report with perhaps the most sobering warnings about climate change that it’s released so far. It said the effects of climate change are already being seen and connected it to political instability and rising food prices among other things.

But is sport relevant in this discussion? The sport and development community has been successful in demonstrating its effectiveness in addressing a range of objectives from education to conflict resolution. Sport’s role in addressing climate change is less clear, but it can still contribute in important ways.

Cleaning up sport itself

Sport is a huge industry, with billions watching their favourite teams, attending games and playing in their communities. In recognition of this, the Green Sports Alliance encourages North American professional and collegiate sports to invest in renewable infrastructure and support ecologically responsible causes. UEFA partners with the WWF in a relationship which includes offsetting carbon emissions from its flights and more than half of the 2010 World Cup’s participating teams offset carbon emissions from their travel to the tournament. The new Juventus stadium, opened in 2011, became one of the first examples of an “environmentally friendly” football stadium.

The size of the sports industry means the adoption of such practices is important in itself. However, it is also hoped that, in demonstrating the benefits of environmental responsibility, the behaviour of businesses and the general public can be influenced on a wider scale. With popularity comes influence.

During Sochi 2014, over 100 Olympic athletes signed a letter to world leaders calling for action on climate change. Concerns about warm weather in Sochi caused lively discussions on the potential for climate change to threaten the future of the Winter Olympics and winter sports in general. In November, representatives from every major US sports league met with Congress to discuss how climate change will affect their sports and to urge for stronger action. A growing number of major sports stars have endorsed environmental campaigns. The WWF’s Earth Hour, for example, has been endorsed by well-known athletes such as Leonel Messi.

The profile of professional athletes makes them well placed to advocate for action, and encourage others to do the same. Community level sports programmes can also help mobilise people to advocate for change.

Sport is now widely recognised as a tool for education on wide range of issues. Youth Development through Football (YDF) published a manual on educating about environmental issues through football, with everything from content to discuss to specific activities to organise. ACRO Ghana has made the link between environmental issues and human security by focusing on climate change education for its annual World Peace Day football match.

Sport can be a fantastic arena within which to disseminate messages highlighting the importance of human behaviour on the environment, especially within contexts where this is not given enough attention within the formal education system.

A vested interest
While sport can’t provide all the answers, it can play an important role in addressing climate change through reducing carbon emissions in the industry and being used as a tool to educate and advocate. What’s more, winter sports in many locations appear to be threatened by an increasingly unreliable climate while this year’s Australian Open demonstrated the challenges of playing sport in very hot weather. Sport not only has the potential to be used as a tool to address climate change, but it has a vested interest in doing so.


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Paul Hunt


Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - 23:00