The GSB Interview

Dr. Stavros Triantafyllidis — Bringing Green-Sports to The Citadel

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The Citadel, aka the “the Military College of the South”¹ is seen as a bastion of conservatism. And yet the Green-Sports movement has reached the Charleston, South Carolina campus thanks in large part to the persistence and drive of an academic from Athens, Greece.

GreenSportsBlog spoke to that professor, Dr. Stavros Triantafyllidis, about his journey to The Citadel and Green-Sports.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Stavros, I’m sure our readers are wondering how you made it from the home of the Olympic Games, Athens, to a small military college in South Carolina to teach about sports and sustainability. How did this happen?

Stavros Triantafyllidis: Well, Lew from the time I was four or five years old, I loved sports, volleyball specifically.

You see, my dad, Michalis, was an indoor and beach volleyball legend in Greece. In fact, they called him “The Michael Jordan of Volleyball”. So, as a kid, all I wanted to be was an athlete.

 

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Michalis Triantafyllidis, the “Michael Jordan of Volleyball” (Photo credit: Action Images)

 

 

GSB: Were you a good volleyballer?

Stavros: I was a strong outside hitter. But I wanted to make sure I had a good career path outside of volleyball. So, I also devoted myself to my studies, studying environmental science at the University of the Aegean.

GSB: Why did you choose environmental science?

Stavros: Well, Lew, I graduated high school in 2006, which was really the start of the Green Movement…

GSB: …If memory serves, that was the year Al Gore’s documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth” came out.

Stavros: That’s right. Also, I wanted to have a degree that was not that common and environmental science fit that description. And, as I got into my course work, I found it to be fascinating.

 

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Like father, like son: Stavros Triantafyllidis in action in a beach volleyball tournament in Florida (Photo credit: Connie Lee Photography)

 

GSB: Now Greece, like most every country outside of the United States, does not have big time college athletics. So, were you able to pursue volleyball as well as your studies?

Stavros: I did play volleyball professionally. For Lesbos, which was in the third division in the Greek professional system. Then I was traded to a second division club. Eventually I played for Kifissia Volleyball Club (V.C.) in the first division for a season. Meanwhile, I joined the military in Greece as part of the mandatory service requirement, ultimately becoming a member of the Supreme Military Sports Council of Hellenic Armed Forces.

But as time went on, I began to realize that I was not going to be an Olympian and I didn’t want to be a coach. So, I retired from volleyball after my stint in the military.

I wanted to continue my studies by going to the U.S. to get a masters.

GSB: Did you speak English?

Stavros: Yes. In Greece, English is a mandatory second language from the age of six.

In 2012, I attended school for advanced English that was required for graduate school in the U.S. Then I applied to the University of Miami (Florida) for the Master of Science in Sport Administration…

GSB: …Wait a second. What about your interest in the environment?

Stavros: Well, Lew, I had also applied to several schools for a Masters’ in Environmental Management and Engineering, but I ended up going for Sport Administration to broaden my horizons.

But environmental science still was in the back of my mind and, sometime during the second semester of my first year, I thought, “why not combine environmental science and sport science?”

GSB: So, what did you do?                                  

Stavros: I wrote a proposal, “How to Manage Sport Events Through an Environmental Science Perspective” and it got accepted. Eventually I got my PhD at the University of Florida…

 

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Stavros Triantafyllidis (Photo credit: Craig Schmitt/University of Florida)

 

GSB: Wow, you went from being a Hurricane to a Gator? How did that happen?

Stavros: I did get some funny looks at the beginning. Anyway, my PhD was at the College of Health and Human Performance and my focus was on sport and the environment. Specifically, my doctoral dissertation has title: “Sense of Place and Pro-Environmental Behavior in Beach Volleyball”

GSB: That dissertation definitely fits!

Stavros: Then I got hired by The Citadel, the storied Military College of South Carolina. The Citadel ranks among the top three regional universities in the south and is located in the heart of the City of Charleston, with about 3,000 undergraduates, or cadets, and 500 graduate students. I am in my third year as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human performance and the Swain School of Science and Mathematics. I am the Director of the Sport Management programs

GSB: How does sustainability figure into sport management courses, if at all?

Stavros: Great question. Last spring, I developed a new course, “Sport and Sustainable Development”. There are two parts to it: “Sustainable Development For Sport (S4SD)” and “Sustainable Development Of Sport (SDoS)”.

Essentially, S4SD analyzes the ways that sport can be used as a platform for positive change and sustainable interventions in our modern society and SDoS explains how the sport industry can grow through sustainable development.

The course takes a broad view of the topic, looking at personal behaviors, technology, social issues, the environment, the economy, the politics and more.

GSB: Sounds like courses I’d want to take. Is some of your research work Sport & Sustainability-based? If so, what have you been studying?

Stavros: Well Lew, I’m excited to say that my book “Sport and Sustainable Development: An Introduction,” will be published by Routledge in 2021.

One aspect of my research, published by the Journal of Carbon Research in 2019, focused on the sustainability aspects of a major event in Charleston, the Cooper River Bridge Run, a huge 10k that draws 45,000 elite and recreational runners.

We asked runners how they perceive the environment when they run. We also tracked CO₂ emissions associated with the event. Transportation is a big driver, pun intended, of emissions, with findings showing that most of the runners drove their own vehicles more than 150 miles to participate in the race. The largest quantity of CO2 emissions derived from those participants who traveled a round trip of, on average, 500 miles. Long-distance travelers alone generated 338 million kg of CO2 emissions.

Our recommendation is that cities and sports events should target long-distance travelers for promotions concerning sustainable transportation. By doing so, mass participant sports events could play a crucial role in the sustainable development of growing cities, and, in turn, cities that can best manage long-distance traveling behaviors can reduce the global amount of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the global environmental destruction.

GSB: That makes perfect sense pre-COVID. But will participants or fans who travel long distances to sports events take mass transit in large numbers in a post-COVID world? What might sustainable transit look like then?

Stavros: This is a great question, Lew. COVID-19 is bringing a new era to the sports world, including regarding transportation.

In a number of studies, the best fit for fans and active sport event participants (runners, cyclists, etc.) is carpooling. Mass transit usage has of course been significantly reduced due to the pandemic.

So, for the near term future at least, carpooling will be the only type of mass transit available for this type of event.

If event organizers can modify the traveling behaviors of their participants, and control the single-occupant vehicle usage, then the carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced at a minimum rate by 50 percent, considering that carpooling means a minimum of two passengers in a vehicle. Accordingly, the trick would be for sport event organizers to provide benefits for the participants who do not travel alone. A reduction of the registration fees would be a strong start.

Our recommendation is that cities and sports events should target long-distance travelers for promotions concerning sustainable transportation. By doing so, mass participant sports events could play a crucial role in the sustainable development of growing cities, and, in turn, cities that can best manage long-distance traveling behaviors can reduce the global amount of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the global environmental destruction.

GSB: That also makes perfect sense. But, like almost everything else regarding COVID-19, nothing is simple. Would carpoolers, if they don’t live together, have to have a recent negative COVID test? Or have quarantined for two weeks?

Stavros: Yes of course. The sport organizations can form these COVID-19 policy-related practices: If two athletes are negative, they can travel together. If athletes have a positive exposure to COVID-19, then there will not be allowed to participate in the events, in general. So, no carpool, and they would be expected to be in quarantine.

GSB: So COVID-19 testing with rapid results will need to be part of participant events coming out of the pandemic. Back to The Citadel. The Bulldogs compete in the Southern Conference, a “mid-major” Division I league. Have you brought sustainability to The Citadel athletics department and, if so, how has it been received?

Stavros: I reached out to the assistant athletics director with the idea of calculating emissions data, including transportation, for the department across all sports. He was delighted and the department is looking forward to collaborating — of course once COVID-19 is under control and the Southern Conference is back on the field. Last fall I also spoke with Brent Thompson, head football coach of the Citadel Bulldogs. He also expressed a willingness to help.

GSB: That’s great to hear. How has coronavirus impacted your research and your work?

Stavros: Actually, my life has become better, healthier, more productive, and my work has been more focused, and more effective. One result is that I contributed chapter 4 — “Environmental Change, the Sport Industry and COVID-19” — in Sport and the Pandemic by Paul Pedersen, et al. to be published by Routledge next month.

GSB: You have been very busy. So, I understand that The Citadel just started the new semester with in-person classes. How is that going so far? Has the fall sports season been canceled or postponed?

Stavros: We started on August 19 to teach in-class. Specifically, The Citadel has adapted a new educational model which makes our courses “hybrid”. That means that each class split in two group of students, approximately, ten students per group One day the first group come to class, wearing masks and maintaining six feet of social distance, and the other groups attend the class live and online.

The football season is expected to start on September 12 at South Florida with the Bulldogs then traveling to #1 ranked Clemson the next week. Several other games have been postponed indefinitely.

GSB: I have a feeling the Bulldogs’ schedule will have more changes in the coming weeks. Have any Citadel athletes gotten involved with the Greening of Bulldogs sports? Perhaps the coronavirus-caused sports hiatus will spur some athletes to join in.

Stavros: Yes, they have.

A number of student-athletes were involved in recycling and beach clean-up efforts last academic year.

GSB: The Citadel is seen as a very conservative institution and conservatives in the U.S. have, for the most part, been skeptical or doubtful of the existence of — or at least the seriousness of — climate change. With that backdrop, how has it been for you to push sport sustainability there?

Stavros: The administration, the students, and the faculty, go against that grain. Sustainability, the necessity of living in harmony with nature, is seen as core to the university’s mission.

The Swain School of Science and Mathematics provides support for Citadel Faculty members with the program of Climatological Studies Operating Fund. A total of $60,000 are available for 2020 by the Climatological Research Studies Grant (CRSG). Its objective is to support advancement in the understanding of climate, its impacts and associated adaptation measures, primarily in South Carolina, through research, education, and community outreach.

Since climate studies span multiple academic disciplines, including sciences, mathematics, engineering, education, and others, interdisciplinary collaborations are strongly encouraged. So too is engagement with regional K-12 schools, colleges and universities, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and industry.

GSB: Going forward, what other sustainability-related collaborations are you looking to create with athletics at The Citadel?

Stavros: One thing I’d like to look at are the environmental and health aspects of the artificial turf at Johnson Hagood Memorial Stadium, the home of Citadel Bulldogs football.

I would like to collaborate with athletics and develop an overall climate resilience and climate policy for the department. And, I will apply for funding to develop a lab on sport and sustainable development (S&SD).

Finally, we want to explore how we can find ways to increase funding for research, teaching and learning to assist Citadel Athletics in becoming more sustainable in the broader sense; from community, economic and environmental perspectives.

Because if we can show that here at a D-I program in Charleston, our bigger neighbors at Clemson and the University of South Carolina may take notice, embrace sustainability more aggressively. That would have a big impact.

Photo at top: Dr. Stavros Triatafyllidis (white shirt) surrounded by senior sport management students at The Citadel (Photo credit: The Citadel)

 


 

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