Given the large reach of the sports industry and the general public’s widespread participation in physical activity worldwide, sport has the potential to influence changes to individual behaviour and government policies. There are many examples of campaigns organised by athletes, civil society organisations and individual activists.
Many groups have emerged that aim to advocate for improvements on sport’s environmental impact. One of the most influential is the Green Sports Alliance. Founded in 2010, the alliance now has around 400 member organisations. It aims to encourage leagues, governing bodies, teams and fans to improve their environmental practices, while providing support to help them to do so.
Sport Positive is another important actor. It organises an annual summit of the more than 300 signatories of the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework as well as the Sustainability Leagues for the national football league's Premier League, Ligue I, and the Bundesliga.
Athletes also play an important role. In February 2023, almost 200 current and former winter sports athletes signed a letter to the International Ski Federation (FIS). The letter called for a commitment from the federation to reaching net-zero by 2035, an emissions reduction strategy, the installation of an independently controlled sustainability department and greater transparency in their climate objectives and operations.
China’s first female professional surfer, Darcy Liu, has been at the forefront of many initiatives in the country’s Hainan province since 2009, when she started organising beach clean-ups. She now organises monthly gatherings to collect rubbish, zero-waste surfing events and the distribution of specially painted bins to encourage surfers and visitors to properly dispose of waste.
Former Australian rugby union captain David Pocock and his wife Emma have established Front Runners, which aims to support the development of player-led climate change movements. In the UK, Champions for Earth is a coalition of current and former athletes aiming to make their collective voices heard on environmental issues. Protect Our Winters is an environmental advocacy organisation with 130,000 members comprised of pro athletes, individuals, resorts, brand partners and passionate outdoor enthusiasts.
Having fans both adjust their behaviour (e.g., in relation to travel) and engage in campaigns is crucial to improving the sustainability of sport. Efforts to understand fans’ views have therefore increased. One survey from Life Tackle found 69% of European football fans would be happier to attend matches if they were more environmentally friendly.
A number of organisations also aim to support advocacy efforts by sharing information and data. The Sustainability Report is a leader in that space, sharing news and analysis across a wide range of sports. The Sports Ecology Group shares research, resources and events, intending to reach a wider audience than academic journals allow. English journalist Tanya Aldred has created the website the Next Test, which collects information on cricket and the climate crisis and campaigns for improvements in the sport.
Some universities have also engaged in action related to sport and environmental issues. For example, among the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework signatories are six universities, as well as the International University Sports Federation.