Green Sports Day

Oh, Canada! Green Sports Day Takes Center Stage North of the Border


Most people, beyond those deeply ensconced at the intersection of Green & Sports, do not know that October 6 is Green Sports Day.

It has a decidedly US heritage — after all, it was launched in 2016 at the Obama White House in concert with the Green Sports Alliance.

But it was a gaggle of Green-Sports practitioners from north of the border who took charge of this year’s observance, potentially taking awareness of Green Sports Day to a much broader audience.

This is the story of Green Sports Day Canada 2021.



It was the COVID Summer of 2020 and sports were slowly and gingerly inching back onto the field after the spring shutdowns. Much of the Green-Sports world was still on pause.

During this pandemic-forced intermission, Dr. Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, founder of the Sport Ecology Group and an Ontario native, brought together a group of top athletes and sustainable sports practitioners in Canada to discuss how the country could get behind Green Sports Day in 2021, something that had not happened in the prior five years, and do so in a big way.


Dr. Maddy Orr (Photo credit: Salena Phillips-Gomez)



“The way to get funding for sports projects in Canada is to go through the government, whether municipal, provincial and/or federal,” Orr noted. “And the key to government funding at the federal level is the Minister of Heritage and Sport Canada.”

That ministry had launched gender equity and ‘safe sport’ programs in recent years. Orr and her team wanted to put Green Sports Day Canada on its radar. To do so, they sent a document of support with more than 125 athlete signatures to the Parliamentary Secretary for Sport, who reports directly to the Minister.

“Minister of Heritage and Sport Steven Guilbeault has an activist background and Parliamentary Secretary for Sport Adam van Koeverden was an Olympic kayaker, so we felt we had a good chance of getting support at the highest levels of Canada’s government” Orr shared. “We were able to schedule a virtual meeting with them in January of this year to discuss how to grow Green Sports Day in Canada. They liked the idea and supported us through the summer as we planned to host a virtual Green Sports Day Summit.”

Things we were going according to plan until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election for mid-September, which meant all of his ministers had to resign. Even though the incumbent won, and even though Guilbeault and van Koeverden would eventually be reinstated, that wouldn’t happen until mid-October, too late for this year’s Green Sports Day.

Which meant the expected funding largely evaporated.

That did not phase the climate-minded team, which included Emilie Fournel, a three-time Olympian in kayak, Philippe Marquis, a two-time Olympian in freestyle skiing, and Seyi Smith, an EcoAthletes Champion and that rare athlete who competed in both Summer (4×100 relay) and Winter (bobsled) Olympics.

While the budget cut necessitated a shift to virtual events instead of hoped for in-person sessions, the group remained committed to achieving its three main objectives.

“Our goals remained intact throughout the process, even after the election,” noted Marquis. “They were to 1. Accelerate a conversation on sustainable sports and climate action, 2. Educate the Canadian sports community on best-practices for sustainable sport, and 3. Celebrate the work being done to ‘green’ the sports sector in Canada.”


Philippe Marquis (Photo credit: Philippe Marquis)



With that in mind, Green Sports Day Canada was set up as a half-day summit, open to the public. It was promoted via digital and social media and the event’s profile was boosted by proclamations from the mayors of Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and more. Summit highlights included a:

  • Keynote address from Andrew Ference, Stanley Cup-winning defenseman for the Boston Bruins in 2011, investor in sustainable businesses and currently the NHL’s first director of social impact, growth and fan development.
  • Panel discussion among members of Canadian sports federations, all signatories of the UN’s Sports For Climate Action Framework, about how sports can best make.
  • Vibrant, virtual, sustainable sports-themed panel for 4th to 8th grade students in schools across Canada.

Martha McCabe — a swimmer for Canada at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, and founder of Head To Head, an organization dedicated to connecting Canadian Olympians with youth across Canada to impart winning habits on and off the field — spearheaded the classroom program.

“We partnered with the Cobblestone Collective, experts at virtual education, on the school event,” McCabe shared. “The panel members — Emilie Fournel, Seyi Smith and Maddy Orr — each shared their climate journeys. Then they threw it back to the students, asking them, ‘What kind of conversations are you having about climate in school?’, ‘What about at home?’, ‘What would your climate action plan look like?’ The students — there were about 2,500 kids in 120 classrooms across the country — were very into it! And they loved that Canadian Olympians were talking with them about climate, empowering them to have conversations about it at home.”


Martha McCabe (Photo credit: Head To Head)



Looking ahead to 2022, Orr envisions a more expansive, better funded Green Sports Day Canada, with in-person events, more participating schools and a tree planting program that would result in the establishment of the Canadian Sports Forest.



GSB’s Take: President Barack Obama and his White House offered significant public support to the inaugural Green Sports Day in 2016, thanks to the groundwork of the Green Sports Alliance. Unfortunately, that fast start proved to be a tough act to follow during the Trump Era.

So, kudos to the group of Canadians who jump started Green Sports Day this year by bringing it north of the border. Considering the late innings budget cut, delivering such a robust program was impressive indeed.

The Green Sports Day Canada team has bold growth plans for 2022. I hope and expect that those will include looping in counterparts in the United States to make the event even bigger.



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