COP 26

The Sport@COP Story


COP 26, the 12-day global climate conference taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, is underway. The sports community has its biggest on-the-ground presence at any COP ever for two main reasons:

1. The urgency of the climate crisis as well as the need for action.

2. The efforts of two Canadian women, Aileen McManamon, CEO of 5T Sports and Dr. Madeleine “Maddy” Orr, co-Founder of Sport Ecology Group, who put together the Sport@COP program, highlighted by the Sports Day of Action on Monday November 8.

McManamon took a break from Sport@COP preparations to chat about how it came together and to discuss the program’s highlights and goals.


GrenSportsBlog: Aileen, I know you’re dotting a lot of Sport@COP “i’s” and crossing a lot of Sport@COP “t’s” so thank you for giving us some time. How and when did the program start to take shape?

Aileen McManamon: Thanks, Lew! So, early in 2021, I spoke with Russ Seymour, the head of the British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS) about their plans for COP. He said, ‘Aileen, things are still up in the air because of COVID.’ At around that time, I also talked with Claire Poole of Sport Positive Summit about COP. She said something similar: ‘No one really knows what’s happening because of COVID.’ I filed that away.

Fast forward to July, and it looked like COP was trending to be an in-person event. One morning, I’m in my Vancouver, in my pajamas and I see something called ‘UnCOP’ on my Clubhouse app…


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Aileen McManamon (Photo credit: Tonino Guzzo)


GSB: Clubhouse? This is definitely a 2021 conversation!

Aileen: Right! Anyway, I listened in and I hear a woman named Ann Rosenberg talk about her company, Wood PLC, a Denmark-based engineering consulting firm with an oil and gas heritage that has pivoted to clean energy. She talked about how they would create Wood House at COP, between the COP site and the main train station in Glasgow and offer it up, free, for COP-related programming and events.

I was immediately intrigued and called Ann about Wood House. She was excited about the possibility of hosting sports-themed events there. Then I called Maddy Orr to let her know about the Wood House opportunity. And she and I started to brainstorm about what we could pull together in because when we hit August, it became clear that COP would be taking place in-person in Glasgow. …

GSB: …So you only had three months to put this together? 

Aileen: And we had no funding. And we decided we did not want to have another panel, another keynote.

GSB: What did you want it to be?

Aileen: We wanted it to be real, to be hands on and to be the place where people in the Green-Sports world would go to help make climate action. So, we envisioned a full afternoon program at Wood House that we would call the Day of Action And, because the in-person aspect was still somewhat up in the air, we also wanted to include a virtual component. Oh yeah, all of the Day of Action programs are free!

GSB: That’s great. Plus, that means many more people can attend the Day of Action. What will it entail?

Aileen: Maddy had the idea for the kick-off program, the ‘Athletes Assembly’ from 1 – 2:30 PM local time. It will be a 90 minute, peer-to-peer climate advocacy workshop for athletes only. The session will be closed to outsiders so that will give the athletes the freedom to speak completely freely. Virtual attendance is possible so we hope to draw as big an audience as possible. Media will be able to interview attendees after the session. Click here to register if you’re an athlete who would like to attend the Athletes Assembly in-person or virtually.

Aside from the Athletes Assembly, the remaining three Day of Action programs are open to the public, in-person and virtually. Click here to register for the three remaining Day of Action programs:

  • The Sport Sustainability Showcase runs from 2:30-3PM local time. Organizations like BASIS, the Council for Responsible Sport, Green Sports Alliance, Green Sports Alliance Japan, SandSI, and the Sports Environment Alliance will share brief videos that give in-person and virtual attendees a sense of what they’re working on now.
  • Next up is the ‘Global Sustainable Sport Hackathon’, from 3 to 4PM. Up to 60 students be divided into to teams that will develop sports-related business or product ideas.
  • Then we wrap up with the ‘Sport By SDG Challenge’ from 4-6 PM. Again teams will be set up with the focus here being on developing a Climate Action Activation campaign. They will be made up of people from different disciplines — brands, sports properties, NGOs, teams. Teams will be tasked with creating the campaign’s main idea, metrics for success, the call to action, a slogan and a media plan, all in an hour. They will present their work during the second hour.


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Wood House at COP 26 (Photo credit: Wood PLC)


GSB: The Day of Action sounds like one hell of an afternoon! How are you and Maddy spanning to spread the word? 

Aileen: Great question, Lew. BBC Sport, Sky Sports News and The Sustainability Report are all expected to have reporters on site. SportsPro Media approached Maddy about being involved as well.

Our sponsors are helping spread the word. Maikai, a London-based startup that is dedicated to ‘supercharging positive change’ pegged to the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), is our partner of our athletes session. World Athletics is sponsoring the Hack-A-Than and Laureus Foundation is doing the same with the SDG Challenge. Microsoft is also a sponsor.

GSB: That is fantastic work, especially since you had no time to put this together!

Aileen: It’s been a whirlwind, that’s for sure. We’ve been able to get to the starting line by dividing and conquering: Maddy has been focused on the content of the sessions. I’ve been working more on overall logistics; I’m more of a conduit, not a curator.

GSB: I wish I could be in Glasgow for this very important Day of Action but I’ll do the next best thing and join in virtually. 



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