Over the ten years I’ve been attending and taking part in Green-Sports events, I’ve heard many a speaker say a version of ‘if we all take small steps, we can make a big difference on climate’. I have not been immune to this type of language. After all, it is human nature for speakers at conferences to put a positive spin on their work, on their industry, on the broader world. Many likely don’t want to be seen as ‘Negative Nellies’, controversial or both. They may think that people want to hear positive stories, especially when the topic is as fraught as the climate crisis.
The thing is, given the scope of the climate crisis and its urgency, and given the maturation of the Green-Sports industry, most attendees will no longer accept ‘Kumbaya, look at how great we’re doing’ presentations. They want the tough discussions that dig into real issues — for example, how can sports organizations and the media companies that broadcast their games square their ‘we really care about climate’ claims while having fossil fuel companies as sponsors.
Last week’s fourth annual Sport Positive Summit at the Kia Oval cricket ground in London — which drew 500 people in-person and 100+ virtual attendees — offered less Kumbaya, more hard conversations, often featuring new voices from different parts of the world. Here are some highlights from the speakers who pushed the envelope.
On Warming Stripes…
“Communicating the scale of climate change in ways that are clearly understood has been easier said than done. We created Warming Stripes, one for each of the 173 years from 1850 to 2023. Each stripe shows average annual temperature as a color, from blues for cooler years and bright red for the hottest ones.
This clear visual representation has been shown to start conversations about climate. That’s why having the Stripes be displayed on the White Cliffs of Dover, having them used or worn by rock bands, Greta Thunberg and Pope Francis is very important. And now sports teams are using the Warming Stripes. Reading FC, currently in the second tier of English football, put the Stripes on their kits (uniforms). And that led the TV announcers on ITV to mention the Stripes during a Carabao Cup match versus Manchester United. Why does this matter? Reading rarely gets to play a big club like ManU so the audience was very big. We need much more of this type of coverage.”
To learn more about the Warming Stripes, visit https://showyourstripes.info
The Warming Stripes illuminated on the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, England (Photo credit: University of Reading)
On UBS Arena, the two-year-old environmentally forward home of the NHL’s New York Islanders in Elmont, NY
“The GOAL team listened intently to the UBS Arena stakeholders to find out what was important to them and the community.
Through those conversations, the team developed a sustainability framework that define the arena’s values and impact opportunities: Sustainable Brilliance and Community Resilience.
Sustainable Brilliance is about celebrating the elegance and beauty of the arena’s design, while recognizing that beauty is also about empowering staff and protecting the environment.
Community Resilience fits Long Island, an area that is known for people who work hard, part of the tough New York culture, while recognizing that they are located in a geography subject to climate risk.
Three pillars with associated ambitious goals, include:
- Nourish Neighborhood, with a community resilience plan that features energy storage solutions for emergencies, including extreme weather,
- Planet Protection, which includes reducing Scope 3 emissions by 25 percent below the 2022 baseline by 2030 and adding six megawatts of on site renewables by the end of 2024, and
- Inspiring Our Industry by committing $100,000 to support local climate justice initiatives and more.”
The full sustainability strategy, associated goals, and aligned corporate partners will be announced in November when UBS Arena celebrates its second anniversary.
Kristen Fulmer, Oak View Group (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Katie Cross, Founder, Pledgeball
On the panel entitled ‘A Sustainable Future for Sport – Game On or Game Over?’
“Educating the public, including sports fans, about the seriousness of climate change and the opportunities around climate change is crucial. And we don’t have to get all fans to support climate action or even a majority.
Studies show that it only takes getting 20 to 25 percent of the population to support an issue for a tipping point to be reached and for social norms to change.
So it is definitely possible, if not easy, to get mass support on climate..
What are the barriers to getting to that tipping point? Number one is paralysis, two is a lack of infrastructure, and finally there is a big gap between wanting to take action and actually doing it.
To bridge the gap, sports organizations need to 1) use existing research on what motivates people towards climate action, 2) talk and listen to fans, 3) assess the impacts of what you’re already doing climate and sports, 4) be bold, and 5) play the long game.”
Katie Cross, Pledgeball (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Alexandra Rickham, Head of Sustainability, World Sailing
On the ‘Imagine Differently: How Environmental Justice Can Start With You’ panel
“Here we are at Kia Oval in London’s Lambeth borough. Did you know that in Lambeth, environmental injustice, a powerful threat multiplier, is very high? After all, one in four live below the poverty line, most have little to no access to green spaces and have higher rates of asthma than the average. COVID hit much harder in Lambeth than in wealthier boroughs. Implicit bias certainly fuels climate and environmental injustice.
How do we begin a pivot to climate and environmental justice? Greater inclusion is an important place to start.”
Alexandra Rickham, World Sailing (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Radzi Chinyanganya, Formula E Broadcaster
On how Formula E is accelerating change with a purpose for up and coming generations
“Stories are the way establish a lasting connection. And Formula E has amazing stories that, at their heart, promote electric mobility. I mean, think of where we were with our Generation 1 race cars back 10 years ago; the battery range was such that when drivers took pit stops, they had to change cars. Now, the range and speed of the Generation 3 cars are off the charts. And drivers don’t have to switch cars mid-race at all.
And these Gen 3 cars make the races much more entertaining, much more strategic, which is fantastic for our growing number of viewers. You see, the Gen3 car battery range, while much longer than Gen1, is still not quite enough to go the distance. But, drivers can recharge the batteries while racing by braking — regenerative braking. So drivers have to decide when to lay back and draft to conserve battery, how much and when to brake. It makes the broadcast so compelling. And every time you have these kinds of strategic decisions, that gives the announcers a chance to educate on electric mobility.”
Radzi Chinyanganya, broadcaster, Formula E (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Innes Fitzgerald, 17 Year Old British World Class Cross-Country Runner; Known As the ‘Greta Thunberg of Sport’
On her decision to forgo the opportunity to run in the 2023 World Cross Country Championships in Australia due to the carbon that would have been emitted to get her to and from the event
“I thought about this for a long time. Of course I wanted to go. But in the end, it just didn’t seem justifiable to fly all the way around the world.
I thought about it this way: How could I take this trip, exercising my privilege to expend this large amount of carbon emissions, thus hurting people without this privilege?
The amount of support I’ve received since taking this decision has been overwhelming. Other athletes would apologize to me, saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m going to go. But I respect your decision not to. And I now know more about the issue.’ I’m glad this made athletes think and question their decisions. I don’t at all judge them for going.
I have gotten some negative reactions. My way of thinking about that is that they must feel badly about not doing as much as they can on climate so they try to take me down. So, all I can do is look past them, explain why I’m doing what I’m doing and get people to think, ‘maybe she does have a point.’
Now I do want to compete at the highest level possible, including World Championships and Olympics. We do need more local races and better mass transit to be able to get to them with low carbon footprints. I am glad there will be a number of world class level events much closer to home that will allow me to showcase my talent in the next few years.”
Innes Fitzgerald (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Kate Strong, Just Completed 3,000 mile ‘Climate Cycle’ Around UK on a Bamboo Bike and EcoAthletes Champion; Etienne Stott, Olympic Gold Medalist in Kayak at London 2012, co-founder ‘Champions for Earth’
On athletes accepting fossil fuel sponsorships
Kate: “The issue is not black and white. Of course we have to transition off fossil fuels but many athletes are not well-funded and fossil fuel companies have a lot of money to spend.”
Etienne: “It is difficult, understandably, to get individual athletes to call out fossil fuel companies from within.
We need to let athletes know about the ‘1,000 ton rule’, which states that for every 1,000 tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, one person in the world dies.
The high profile protests against the Total Energy sponsorship of the 2023 Rugby World Cup was important.”
Kate Strong (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Etienne Stott (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Lauren MacCallum, General Manager, Protect Our Winters UK; Seán McCabe, Climate Justice Officer, Bohemian FC, Dublin
On Systems Change, Education and Capacity Building
Lauren: “Our approach is to put pressure on governments of all sizes to act more quickly and seriously on climate. Climate has become, unfortunately, a partisan issue in the UK, as in other countries. Sport has the power to say NO. We say that we may disagree on who we vote for but climate action and protection of the outdoors is non-negotiable!
Now, staying out of the partisan fray does not mean we shy away from big issues. To the contrary, we believe the sports world is not talking enough about helping to accelerate the transition to a fossil fuel-free future. That’s why we lean into the banning of fossil fuel companies from sponsoring sports.”
This crisis will not be averted without ruffling feathers.
Lauren McCallum, POW UK (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Seán: “We have to re-prioritize our definition of sustainable goals. Our efforts on climate must emphasize social and economic benefits to our communities.
I don’t care about plastic water bottles; I don’t have the time to worry about net zero, offsets are nonsense. We care about the lives of the members and supporters of Bohemian FC.
So, while football is our core, we’ve decided to go beyond it.
That’s why we formed the Bohemian Climate Cooperative. We won a €500,000 grant from the Irish government. We did not tell our members what to do; instead we asked them what they need and want. So we can own a retrofitting company together, a solar farm together. This way, we build community wealth together in a just way as we go through this transition away from fossil fuels.
Seán McCabe, Bohemian FC (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit/Capturise)
‘The Debate’: Moderators David Garrido of Sky Sports News and Claire Poole, Sport Positive Summit. Debators:David Goldblatt, UK-based Sports Writer, Broadcaster, Journalist & Author; Fiona Morgan, Chief Purpose Officer, SailGP, and Martin Offiah MBE, Former Pro Rugby Player
Sport Positive Summit concluded with its inaugural Debate, a vibrant discussion of two hot-button Green-Sports issues:
1. How can we square the circle of growth of professional sport – both commercial and geographically – being in direct opposition to sport committing to climate action?
David: “We can’t! Especially since sports tries to countenance that growth by offsetting emissions. It relies on offsets far too much, especially when you read ‘The Guardian’s’ in depth and staggering reporting on the scandals in the offset world.
In fact, to show that the sports world is serious about taking on the climate crisis…
I believe the Olympics should not take place, a pause that would allow sports to rethink how best to encourage climate action.
Fiona: Yes, I think we can continue to grow if we redesign how each sport is conducted in terms of travel, energy use, and more.
Martin: The answer is yes but…
It only works if each sport has an annual carbon budget!
Retired rugby star Martin Offah OBE (left) and moderator David Garrido of Sky Sports News during The Debate (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit/Capturise)
2. Can and should sport say NO to fossil fuel company money?
David: Fossil fuel companies have absolutely no credibility on climate, after having offered well-funded lie after lie for more than 50 years. For that reason…
Fossil fuel companies should be banned from sponsoring sports teams and events
‘Shoulder’ industries — industries that are intimately connected to fossil fuels like banks that finance them, automakers, and more — should not be banned, at least not for now. The fossil fuel companies are in a separate class.
Fiona: It’s not so easy. At SailGP, I’m in meetings with our commercial folks and I certainly offer my opinion about potentially problematic sponsors. The commercial team sometimes have a different perspective and I understand their point of view given that they are measured by the revenue they bring in. But we work through it and my voice is heard.
David Goldblatt (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Fiona Morgan, SailGP (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
Note: Summit attendees were polled on both questions before and after the debate. In both cases, resounding majorities answered NO to continued growth in sports and YES to banning fossil fuel company sponsorships. Those majorities grew post-debate.
Photo at top: The Kia Oval, host to Sport Positive Summit 2023 (Photo credit: Sport Positive Summit 2023/Capturise)
GSB’s Take: Congratulations are in order for Sport Positive Summit and its innovative leader, Claire Poole. The 2023 edition was the most substantive, insightful, provocative Green-Sports event I’ve attended in the 10+ years I’ve been going to these things. There were more tough conversations, much less ‘fluff’, and many new voices heard from. ‘The Debate’ was fantastic — let’s see more of this in 2024 and beyond.
Was Sport Positive perfect? No. There was still some Kumbaya and sometimes there were tough conversations about…having tough conversations. But again, there was less of this than in 2022. And I’m convinced that Claire and Team will take feedback attendees seriously so that Sports Positive 2024 will be even more substantive.
One thought on ’24: How about having Sport Positive issue a statement, a ‘sense of the Summit’ featuring recommended actions for sports organizations that reflect the opinions of the attendees?