Sports organisations have begun to reduce their impact on the environment, but there is still some way to go.

Sports actors have a responsibility to reduce its environmental impact, which will also help protect the future of the sports they work on. This includes governing bodies, leagues, clubs, partners and sponsors that have started to do that. Positive steps forward can include making public targets and commitments, reducing the carbon footprint of operations and events, and rigorously collecting and publishing data. 

Many actors have started to make environmental sustainability more of a priority. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), for example, has developed a Sustainability Strategy. Its aims on climate change are to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and compensate for more than 100% of residual emissions. Commitment to climate action is now also one of the requirements for candidate cities to host the Olympic Games.

In 2019, World Athletics published its sustainability strategy in 2019. It aims to make the federations operations and events carbon neutral by 2030 based on a 10% annual reduction from 2019. UEFA published its environmental policy in 2022 as part of a wider social responsibility strategy. This aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% within UEFA and at UEFA events by 2030, and to achieve net zero by 2050. 

The National Olympic Committee of Cambodia is now an official signatory of the United Nations Sport for Climate Action initiative. Both the 32nd SEA Games (May 2023) and the 12th ASEAN Para Games (June 2023) saw green initiatives adopted.  

In 2022, Turkish football club Galatasaray installed 10,000 solar panels on its stadium, making it the largest solar power plant of its kind. It now provides enough energy 63-65% of its energy use.

These are only examples, and many other sports actors have made changes to their work. However, despite such improvements, overall progress in high-level sport has been slow. Many major sports bodies and clubs still have barely developed policies and processes. In an article on sportanddev called “Overcoming hurdles in sports' sustainability journey,” Mia Salvemini and Emma Hall argue that the approach is often short-term, aimed more at satisfying public opinion and increasing immediate profitability more than achieving organisational change.

Forest Green Rovers has gained notoriety within sport and environmental sustainability discussions by becoming the world’s first-carbon neutral football club. This is admirable and an example for others to follow. However, being in the fourth tier of English football, its comparative influence and previous environmental impact is low. Some clubs are accused of greenwashing by declaring their commitment to sustainability while continuing to pursue partnerships with companies that damage the environment.

An article from Play the Game summarises some of these contradictions well, arguing there are three immediate policy questions the sports world needs to address:

  1. Fossil fuel sponsorship has had a long presence in the sports industry and continues to do so.
  2. Most organisations committed to carbon-zero targets are reliant on carbon offsetting to achieve this, but there are problems with this strategy. 
  3. The sports industry continues to be premised on growth in economic scale and geographical reach. For example, the FIFA World Cup has now become a 48-team tournament.

While it is encouraging that the sports world has taken steps to reduce its environmental impact, it is clear that there is still some way to go.

Image by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

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