Part One of this Year in Review outlines the extreme weather impacts on sport in 2023 and what captured the media and public’s attention. Take a read first for the full year-end sport and sustainability review.
Here we will look at progress the industry has charted this year; from sports organisations making climate and sustainability commitments, notable news and new research and survey findings that have supported industry.
UN Sports for Climate Action (UN SfCA) is the anchor for the global sport and climate movement, and it celebrated it’s 5-year anniversary this month. This year 38 new sports organisations joined UN SfCA, making carbon reduction and net zero commitments. That is one new signatory every 9 or 10 days on average in 2023, under the tenets of transparency and the substantive need to report annually.
Improving and New
Talking of transparency, we love to see the raft of increasingly visual and engaging annual sustainability reports from organisation’s that have made commitments in previous years – from the likes of UCI, that published its first Sustainability Report in 2023, to Formula E who published their sustainability report for Season 8 and 11th Hour Racing released their extensive and interactive Campaign Report from 2019 – 2023.
A number of sustainability strategies from sports organisations were released this year too. Football seemed to lead the way, with the English Football Association (FA) released its new 5-year strategy Playing for the Future in July, the same month that UEFA and Germany released the Euro 2024 ESG Strategy.
Following the initial release of UEFA’s Football Sustainability Strategy 2030 – Strength through Unity in December 2021, AS Roma shared their strategy in September this year as the official pilot club. The Irish FA’s Sustainability Strategy, launched in June, and the Scottish FA’s 3-year Football Social Responsibility strategy released in September, both adopt the framework of UEFA’s Strength through Unity in different ways.
At a club level, global behemoth Barcelona FC launched its first Sustainability Report in October, bringing together the Club’s activities and policies in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 season. Chelsea FC released its top-line sustainability policy for the first time also.
At a governing body level, UK Sport launched a substantive Environmental Sustainability Strategy in March, which alongside specific actions and targets highlights the advocacy influence of high performance sport. The English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) got theirs out too this year, an absolute win for the world of cricket that prior to this year had lagged a little in this area. At an academic level Texas A&M Athletics launched the first of its kind sustainability masterplan for collegiate sports, another big step that will hopefully propel action from others.
In wider industry news, Sports for Nature celebrated their 1-year anniversary this year, with a total of 43 signatories committing to take action to safeguard nature. The inaugural Green Football Weekend took place, with more than 80 of the UK’s football clubs getting involved and reaching 30 million fans. Edgbaston Stadium hosted cricket’s first ‘Go Green Game’, and not forgetting Sofie Junge Pedersen leading 44 Women’s World Cup players to take action by offsetting their flights to Australia and New Zealand for the competition.
Whilst we saw great steps forward, there were some steps backwards too. In June, the Swiss advertising regulator ruled that FIFA had misled consumers by claiming that the men’s Qatar World Cup in 2022 was carbon neutral. The Swiss Fairness Commission, Switzerland’s advertising regulator, ordered FIFA to “refrain in the future from alleging that the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar would allegedly be climate and C02 neutral” unless it could provide “full proof of the calculation . . . of all CO₂ emissions caused by the tournament, and proof that these CO₂ emissions have been fully offset”.
Research, Reports, Surveys
Scientific research and data underpins our understanding of impacts and risks we can expect now and in the future and surveys help us understand the current sentiment of the industry.
Some big statistics out of surveys that were undertaken this year:
- World Athletics shared that 75% of its surveyed athletes perceive a direct negative impact on their health and performance due to climate change
- UN SfCA Bigger than the Game survey showed 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that sports clubs should facilitate climate action amongst fans
- Sport Positive Summit annual debate poll showed 82% of respondents believe sport should now be disengaging from sponsorship money that comes from fossil fuels or heavy carbon emitters
There are many more than we reference here, but academic research released from within our community this year particularly examine the impacts of extreme heat. If you haven’t read these already, take a look:
- Climate impacts in sport: extreme heat as a climate hazard and adaptation options, from authors Cheryl Mallen, Greg Dingle and Scott McRoberts
- Outdoor Sport in Extreme Heat: Capturing the Personal Experiences of Elite Athletes, from author Kate Sambrook
- Protective guidelines and mitigation strategies for hot conditions in professional football: starting 11 Hot Tips for consideration, from author Vincent Gouttebarge, Rob Duffield, Steve van Hollander and Ron Maughan:
Also both well worth a read if you haven’t gotten around to it yet, the Game Changer II Report, an update from the original report that came out in 2018 and the European Commission’s Sport’s Contribution to the European Green Deal – A sport sector playbook.
Another significant indicator of progress in the global sport and sustainability movement that we’ve noticed in 2023 is increased output on this topic from the global south. We read a heart wrenching piece on ‘How climate change is ending the sporting dreams of India’s young’ in April, a clarion call from Charles Nyende, a former Kenya rugby international in September ‘It’s about time Kenyan sports fully entered the climate space’ and ‘How climate change is becoming sport’s biggest challenge out of Pakistan’ in December.
Fossil Fuelled Partnerships
The last theme that warrants mention in a 2023 review is the uptick in coverage and discussion of fossil fuels within sport sponsorship. As well as the activism and campaigns mentioned in yesterday’s article, we have seen reports and voluntary codes launched that help sport understand the impact of these partnerships and encourage them to desist from having these sponsors.
The Climate Council in Australia have launched a voluntary code for sports clubs and arts institutions to remove fossil fuel sponsorship from their uniforms, stadiums and events. ChangeNOW and 17 Sport launched a similar Sport Sponsors Climate Pledge, and Badvertising launched a toolkit on how to screen-out polluting sponsors for sports organisations.
Although there is a lot of information here, happily this Year In Review only scratches the surface of what has been achieved by the global sports and climate community in 2023.
What is striking, especially in regard to the impact of climate change on sport, is that the sports tournaments affected by heat or wildfire smoke or flooding, are a drop in the ocean in comparison to the wider human suffering and displacement that these events caused. It also reminded me that as even as sports organisations continue to take great actions, there are many sports that are targeting growth and expansion now and in the coming years. The level of action needed to allow that to happen whilst reducing carbon, climate and biodiversity impacts is gargantuan, if it is even possible.
Holding this firmly in mind as we enter 2024, we look forward to sports doubling down on action. I’m sure it’s going to be even more purposeful and more impactful than ever before. See you there.