The Paris Tragedy, COP21 and the Sustainable Innovation in Sport Symposium


Sports was scheduled to play a key role at the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris via the first-ever Sustainable Innovation in Sport Symposium (SIS). Then came the tragic terrorist attacks of last Friday. COP21 will still take place and so will SIS. Where do Sports, COP21 and SIS fit in, post 11/13? GreenSportsBlog tries to provide some context.


Sitting down to write a week ago Thursday, I began a post about how Green-Sports would be front and center at COP21, the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris from November 30 to December 11 at which representatives of nearly 200 countries, large and small, will work towards an agreement on climate change that will hopefully keep global warming below 2°C.

Will a meaningful agreement be reached? It’s a tall order, to be sure, but one that sports is well positioned to catalyze. In fact, it is the power of sports to be a macro force for good, an accelerator of positive social change, including in the green/climate change fight, which motivates me to write GreenSportsBlog. And I was PSYCHED that sports would be a major player at the conference, especially via Sustainable Innovation in Sport (SIS), a half-day symposium on December 7 at the Stade de France, site of France’s greatest sports triumph, its 3-0 win over Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final.

So I began writing and laid out the basics of the post. Then, as sometimes happens, I moved on to something else with the intent of finishing it over the weekend.

Soon it was Friday and the unspeakable terrorist attacks in Paris took place. I took some time to absorb the news and think about how best to frame Sports, COP21 and SIS in a post-11/13 world. Here’s where I am netting out:

Sports will play an inspirational, unifying role in France’s healing. So will COP21 and SIS.

First, let’s look at sports. It is trivial in the scheme of things, especially when the ‘things’ are the deadliest terrorist attacks on European soil in decades.
But sports is also the thing that grabs the attention, interest and passions of the biggest swath of humanity–more so than things like art, music, and science.

Depending on the study, 65-70 percent of humans are sports fans of some kind, from the casual to the fanatic. I am not saying sports is better than those other pursuits–far from it–I am simply saying that, if one wants to reach, move and change the behavior of humans, you’ll find more humans through sports than through anything else I can think of.

The vast scale of the sports audience is exactly why the terrorists chose Stade de France, filled to capacity with 80,000 fans, French President François Hollande among them, watching the France-Germany soccer friendly, as a key target on 11/13.

Yet it is precisely the sheer size and passion of fandom that has allowed sports to become a unifying force, helping communities come together and heal, time and again. Post 9/11 New York City is but one example.

Baseball was shut down for several days after the attacks at the World Trade Center until the Mets played the first game in New York on 9/21. In One Swing of the Bat Showed the Healing Power of Sports After 9/11, a terrific 10th anniversary-of-9/11 piece for cnn.com, Steve Politi, now of NJ Advance Media, wrote “The immediate reaction…was to dismiss sports as unimportant, to postpone the games as the nation came to grips with what happened. Everyone agreed that was the right decision. But soon after, the games people love became an integral part of the healing process for the New York region.”

Sports will no doubt play an important part in the the healing of France as well, with soccer taking the lead.

COP21 will also lend a healing hand.

Sadly but understandably, the two large rallies that were scheduled for Paris, bookending the global climate change conference’s beginning and end, have been canceled. But the conference, which will draw Heads of State (Presidents Obama, Putin, Xi Jinping of China, and Narenda Modi of India are still scheduled to attend, along with many others), Nobel Prize winning scientists, along with Fortune 500 and non-profit CEOs, is most definitely ON, with new security measures in place. And perhaps these leaders, spurred on by the tragedy–and, as suggested in a piece by Daniel Marans in Wednesday’s Huffington Post–and by a post 11/13 spirit of global cooperation, will be better able to close a meaningful climate deal at the conference.

Turning to SIS, each of the three words that make up the acronym–SUSTAINABLE, INNOVATION, and SPORT–have the power to inspire: The need for a SUSTAINABLE habitat in the present and future has inspired many young (and some not-so-young) people across the globe to take action. INNOVATION, technological and otherwise, inspires people and organizations to work to accelerate the pace so we get to that sustainable future quickly. As for SPORT, well, we detailed its inspirational qualities above.

To be clear, I am not linking the inspiration coming out of SIS to the tragic events of 11/13 — to say otherwise would be to minimize the untold suffering and loss. But Sustainable Innovation in Sport, alongside the numerous events that will continue to take place during COP21 in spite of these deplorable attacks, will inspire nonetheless.

Organized by Climate Action, with the high patronage of the French Sports Ministry and in association with the Green Sports Alliance, the conference will bring together leaders from Government, UN, sports leagues, teams and governing bodies along with corporate sustainability leaders. Dow, a green-sports stalwart as Official Chemistry Partner of the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, and BT, pushing for a dramatic increase in the adoption of renewable energy by teams and fans through its recently launched 100% Sport initiative, are top sponsors.

As Claire Poole of Climate Action, put it “SIS will highlight the unique opportunity that sport offers to the wider climate change effort. The number of people engaged in the world of sport and the passion and commitment of those people is unrivalled. To drive positive change towards a more sustainable world through sport, as all of our speakers are doing, is truly inspirational.”

Speakers, ranging from Jacques Lambert, President of EURO 2016 (European club soccer championship, to be played in France) to Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, will highlight how sports’ sizable footprint, both literal (i.e. at stadia and arenas around the world), and cultural, make it an ideal, innovative and important player in the climate change fight.


Gretchen Bleiler

Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic Snowboarder from the USA, and a speaker at the upcoming Sustainable Innovation in Sport symposium at the UN COP21 climate change conference in Paris. (Photo credit: Allure)


Perhaps saving the best for last, the day’s final session, “Creating a Sustainability Movement Through Sport,” will demonstrate how attendees can shake up the status quo by embedding sustainability into every consumer aspect of sport. That is inspirational, indeed.



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  1. […] in Paris is Monday’s Sustainable Innovation in Sports (SIIS) symposium. As mentioned in an earlier GreenSportsBlog story, SIIS is organized by Climate Action, with the high patronage of the French Sports Ministry and in […]

  2. […] mentioned in an earlier GreenSportsBlog story, SIIS is organized by Climate Action, with the high patronage of the French Sports Ministry and in […]

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