Sport.  Good, healthy exercise, usually played outdoors in the fresh air.  It can’t possibly be bad for the environment, can it?

Wrong!  Global sport has a carbon footprint approximately equal to that of a whole country such as Spain or Poland.  A report from Deloitte The role of sport in mitigating climate change | Deloitte UK claims that the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the FIFA World Cup each alone have environmental and economic impacts that are felt for decades afterwards.  This is largely down to the extensive infrastructure required for such events and the carbon emissions resulting from competitors and spectators travelling to and from them.  

The impact of the climate crisis on sport                                                                        

And in its turn, sport is suffering from the climate crisis.  A study by sports journalist David Goldblatt for the Rapid Transition Alliance: ‘Playing against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change’  estimates that by 2050:

  • A quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season.
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels.
  • Half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable as winter sports hosts.

It has already started.  In 2019 the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by typhoons, in 2020 the Australian Open was disrupted by smoke from bush fires and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics had to move long-distance running events 600 miles north of Tokyo as the summer heat made it impossible for competitors to run there.

There is, however, some hope. In 2020 Sky Sports and BBC Sport signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s ‘Sports for Climate Action’ Framework, committing to adhere to these 5 principles:

  • Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  • Reduce overall climate impact
  • Educate for climate action
  • Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  • Advocate for climate action through communication.

The BBC Green Sports Awards

And then in June 2022 the BBC launched its annual Green Sports Awards, the first of which were announced in October this year.  They fall into five categories:

  • Teamwork Award
  • Ambition & Impact Award
  • Evergreen Athlete 2022
  • Athlete of the Year
  • Young Athlete of the Year

This year the winners were:

The Teamwork Award to Jadir Taekwondo Association of Rio de Janiero for its commitment to environmental education and holding sustainability at the core of their activities.

The Ambition and Impact Award to SailGP, the international sailing championship created as a climate positive sport, using technological innovations and making greener choices and driving down emissions each year.

The Evergreen Athlete 2022 was Leilana Münter, an American former stock car racer and environmental activist who used her platform to raise awareness of environmental issues, often to the detriment of her career.

Athlete of the Year was Australian former professional rugby player now politician David Pocock.  He led the Cool Down initiative, in which Australian athletes demanded bolder climate action of their government.  He encourages, saying “We don’t have any time to waste and I think it’s really exciting what we can actually build together”.

Finally, and probably most importantly, the Young Athlete of the Year Award went to Norwegian footballer Morton Thorsby, for consistently engaging his fellow footballers in conversations about environmental issues and climate action.  He founded the We Play Green Foundation aimed at galvanising climate action in the football industry.

BBC sports presenter Ed Leigh believes that the Green Sport Awards will help incentivise those already working at the vanguard of climate change in sport, as well as encourage others athletes, clubs and organisation to join in. He says: “The connection between sport and climate change is simple, in that sustainability affects every aspect of our lives.  Sport is a part of the climate discussion and therefore we need to be involved and we need to be proactive.”

You can read much more about the Green Sport Awards and the first winners on and you can watch the awards ceremony on BBC iplayer.

ACAN would love to hear from any local sports groups who are also working towards sustainability in their activities.

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