The GSB Interview: Geert Hendriks, International Academy of Sports, Science and Technology

Switzerland, the hub of European, and in some sense, world sports, is also upping its Green-Sports game. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), headquartered in Lausanne, has made sustainability a key pillar of Olympic Agenda 2020. Last summer, UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, housed in Nyon, hosted one of the most sustainable mega-sports events ever, EURO 2016. And FIFA, which resides in Zürich, is making green strides as well. To get a better sense of the Green-Sports scene on the Continent, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Geert Hendriks, Head of Projects for AISTS (International Academy of Sports Science and Technology), located in Lausanne. And, as a bonus and in the interest of broadening the sporting horizons of our readers, we get into GSB’s first-ever discussion of the sport of Korfball. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Switzerland is certainly the place to be for European sports. Before we get into European Green-Sports, first tell us a bit about the International Academy of Sports Science and Technology, or AISTS, and also how you got there.

Geert Hendriks: Sure! AISTS was founded by the IOC, along with several leading Swiss educational institutes and the city of Lausanne. It has been in existence since 2000—I joined in 2012.  Its mission is to bring a positive contribution to the management of sport through education, consulting and a platform of connections. In terms of sustainability, we look at it as an investment, not a cost. This certainly fits in with my ethos and professional background. It sounds cliché but, really, I was meant to do this work. Before AISTS I worked in information management in the world of Emergency Relief. And before that, I worked in the banking industry…

HENDRIKSGeert

Geert Hendriks, Head of Projects at AISTS (Photo credit: AISTS)

 

GSB:…Ergo “investment”…

GH: Correct. My academic training was in Business Administration, Information Management and Sport Management. And I’m a sportsman of sorts, with korfball being my main sport.

GSB: Korfball? Uh, what the heck is THAT?

GH: It’s a combination of basketball and netball that’s played with men and women simultaneously. It’s big in the Netherlands and played in 65 – 70 other countries, including Switzerland; it’s an IOC recognized sport.

Korfball with kids 2015

Korfball clinic managed by IOC in 2015. (Photo credit: Hawley MacLean)

 

GSB: I could also ask you “What the heck is netball?” but I won’t get into that. I cannot believe there is an IOC recognized sport I’m unaware of. But korfball, which sounds fun, is for another day. Let’s get back to your work with AISTS. Talk about how sustainability fits in.

GH: AISTS incorporates Open Modules in its list of annual activities, one of them being a 2-day course on sustainability in sport and events that debates the current issues, challenges and opportunities. At the last edition, Allen Hershkowitz, former President of the Green Sports Alliance, presented to the participants, as did Omar Mitchell, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility at the National Hockey League. We’ve had the Head of Sustainability from the IOC, as well as speakers from FIFA, Formula E and Coca-Cola.

AISTS Debate

Omar Mitchell (l)  and Allen Hershkowitz (2nd from left) on a panel at AISTS’ Open Module course in March. (Photo credit: AISTS)

 

GSB: I understand AISTS had its most recent course in late March. How did it go?

GH: It went very well. We had 50 people in the room: 35 people who participate in our Master of Advanced Studies in Sport Administration as well as about 15 external people from the industry that attended the course. This group of externals includes professionals from the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), Federation of Gay Games, Formula E as well as from several corporates.

GSB: That sounds like a good mix. What were some of the topics that were discussed?

GH: The need to use sustainability in sport as a driver for the strategic objectives of your organization. Sustainability is no longer an add-on. Bartel Berkhout of Nyenrode University in the Netherlands, in his presentation about sustainable leadership, talked about “sustainability being the new normal”. This is already common in business; so it should be in sport.

GSB: Of course I agree. Now, it seems to me that Green-Sports is in its 2.0 or 3.0 phase. The first phase was greening the games: LEED certified stadiums, recycling and composting, and more. 2.0 is fan engagement. That’s starting to happen. But phase 3.0, perhaps the most important, is engaging the media on Green-Sports. Because if Green-Sports is only taking place at the stadiums and arenas and is not broadcast and streamed to the much bigger audiences who follow the games but don’t attend them, then Green-Sports won’t scale. Was the intersection of Green, Sports and the Media discussed?

GH: Not in a dedicated session. However it was brought up at one of the panels by one of the participants, a former employee of NBC Universal. She acknowledged the importance of the gap between greening on the grounds and the lack of coverage during the games. This is something we will be covering more intently as time goes on.

GSB: Beyond the course, what are some of AISTS most important Sustainability-in-Sport initiatives?

GH: AISTS jointly developed the Sustainable Sport & Events Toolkit with the organizers of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This SSE Toolkit is an online how-to-guide for sustainable sport events, and is used by cities and organizers of medium size sport events across the world. It includes some basic training-modules and almost 200 examples and best practices.

Furthermore, we work with many international sports federations and event organizers, using our expertise to implement sustainability programs, write case studies and report on their impact. During the Rio 2016 Olympics, we worked with the organizing committee on capturing easy-to-understand and concrete examples of good sustainability practices. A set of 16 case studies were published in a small booklet, including the innovative waste management program of the NBA House, the energy savings of the Tokyo 2020 House and many more.

We also work with the city of Richmond (Vancouver), supporting the greening of local sport and community events, offering practical tools to help local event organizers.

GSB: Where does AISTS’ funding come from?

GH: From three sources: 1. Fees for our Educational Programs, including a full-time Masters in Sport Administration track. Right now, we have 35 people from 24 countries participating in this program. 2. Project fees from our work with international sport organizations. And 3. We receive a modest financial contribution from our eight founding partners.

GSB: How have the sports federations and governing bodies gone about engaging fans?

GH: Ah, well, fan engagement on sustainability is the million-dollar-question, isn’t it? There is no easy answer, it depends on the culture, the sport, the media, and probably a few more things. In general, many federations that are doing good work, find it difficult to communicate that engagement to their fans.

GSB: Difficult or maybe they fear the politics of green…If that’s the case, I think that fear is misguided.

GH: Regardless, I would say that in general, the nature of that communication has to be simple, factual, credible, not too “rah, rah”, relevant, and fun, somehow. In my opinion, Formula E has hit the sweet spot in a high profile fashion. It’s fun, great to watch and it is sustainable sport in action.

GSB: I’ve never been to Formula E—will have to check it out. In the meantime, I do believe that fan engagement is the next big hill for the Green-Sports movement to climb and expect that AISTS will be leading some of those climbs.

 


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