In GSB’s 2021 ‘What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports’ column I wrote, Despite the COVID-induced hellishness of 2020 and the disgusting, seditious depravity of 1/6, I am bullish about 2021.
I know what you’re thinking: “GSB can’t be bullish now. After all, we’re on the cusp of the first anniversary of an attempted coup in the United States, in the midst of another wave of COVID infections thanks to the Omicron variant, and global carbon emissions still on the rise despite the high-minded talk at November’s COP26 conference in Glasgow.”
You would be half-wrong (or half-right from a glass half full perspective). I would say I’m skeptically optimistic as we start 2022.
The skeptical aspect should be obvious: The world is not moving nearly fast enough on climate change, and I’m über-concerned about the fragile state of democracy in the U.S.
As for my optimism, I admit that part of it is due to the “gosh-darnit!” positivity that has washed over me since my wife and I binge-watched both seasons of Ted Lasso over the holiday break.
Most of the rest comes from the Green-Sports world. We have a long way to go, to be sure, but I think that athletes, teams, and the media that covers them are moving forward on climate at a faster pace than ever before. And, in true Lasso-style, I BELIEVE in the people who are helping to transition the Green-Sports movement from talk to action!
With that in mind, here is our annual What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports column for 2022.
February 4-20: XXIV Olympic Winter Games, Beijing
Most of the off-ice/off-snow attention surrounding the Beijing Olympics will no doubt focus on the Chinese government’s human rights abuses. That makes perfect sense, due to its harsh treatment of its Uyghur Muslim population — labeled by some as genocide — and its imprisonment (or quasi-imprisonment) of tennis player Peng Shuai after she made a sexual assault charge against a retired high-ranking Communist party official.
When the environment does get mentioned in the media before and during the Games, the focus will likely be on how China is managing (or not) the dangerous air pollution-caused smog that usually bedevils Beijing in winter.
According to a December 27 story by Muyu Xu and David Stanway in Reuters, “Beijing has improved its air quality since China won its bid to host the Games in 2015.” The government has planted thousands of hectares of trees in Beijing and surrounding Hebei province, built many wind and solar farms, and relocated hundreds of industrial businesses.
Still, per China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, smog risks during the Games remain severe.
When it comes to climate change, Beijing 2022 officials claim that the Games will be first “carbon neutral” Olympics ever. To back that up, officials assert that all 26 venues will be powered 100% by renewable energy, more than 700 hydrogen-fueled vehicles will be deployed, and natural CO2 refrigeration systems will be used at most of the ice venues. Carbon offsets will play a major part in getting to carbon neutrality.
Environmental groups like Greenpeace have said that without more publicly available data, it would be difficult to evaluate whether the goal was actually met.
One big climate and environmental issue for the Games is that the Beijing area has a naturally arid climate. The region doesn’t have much snow normally, and the problem has worsened due to climate change. That has led organizers to rely on artificial snowmaking, a process that consumes very large amounts of water and electricity, which increases carbon emissions.
Per a December 14 article by Nathaniel Cheng on the Council on Foreign Relations’ website, “Snowmaking has reportedly resulted in water being diverted away from local residents and farmers, who are already strapped for the resource because Beijing suffers from an endemic water shortage. Artificial snow also destroys native vegetation and can cause erosion and landslides, exacerbating the already-harmful environmental impact of constructing ski runs in natural landscapes. If the Olympic venues are converted into permanent ski resorts as planned, these unsustainable practices will likely continue long after the games. Environmentalists in China raised an uproar after learning that planned ski runs ran through the core of the Songshan Nature Reserve, a protected forest ecosystem in Beijing.”
Will athletes speak out about the climate and other environmental issues surrounding Beijing 2022? Jessie Diggins, who won the United States’ first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing at Pyeongchang 2018, has been speaking out on climate since then. I expect that she will continue to do the same in Beijing and will be joined by others.
Also, will the media, including NBC Sports in the U.S., give significant airtime to athletes if they speak out on climate at Beijing 2022? Watch this space.
February 13: Super Bowl LVI, SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles
The environment and climate change only received supporting, not leading roles, when it comes to the “legacy projects” at Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.
Champions Live Here, the Los Angeles Super Bowl LVI Host Committee’s legacy program, will donate a minimum of $10,000 to each of 56 area charities in three worthy pillars: Youth Development, Jobs and Economic Opportunity, and Social Justice. Environment and climate change are but two of many issues that are huddled under the latter umbrella.
Given that wildfires and severe droughts that have become familiar SoCal occurrences in recent decades, one would think that LASBHC would have given much more prominence to green issues. Other Super Bowl host committees have done so, with San Francisco Bay Area’s Super Bowl 50 and Miami’s Super Bowl LIV highlighting the list.
The environment and climate are also getting short shrift at the league level.
Yes, NFL Green program has been on the ground in Southern California since September, leading numerous community greening projects. These include planting street trees in Watts, refurbishing and expanding a community garden in East LA, and more.
But given the massive scope of the climate crisis and the massive reach of the most watched sports event in the United States by far, GSB believes that the NFL is punching way below its weight on climate at the Super Bowl. Tree planting, worthwhile though it is, is not nearly enough.
What would suffice? Here’s an idea: Launch “2 minute drill on Climate,” a well-funded PSA campaign that will launch on NBC Sports’ Super Bowl LVI telecast, continues through the draft, every 2022 regular season game broadcast and beyond. It will announce substantive new climate action commitments on behalf of the league and suggest ways fans can get involved.
June 21-23: Green Sports Alliance Summit, Minneapolis
After two years of hosting virtual summits, the Green Sports Alliance is planning for its 2022 event to be in person at U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. The 2020 edition was planned for the same venue so for the GSA, it’s better late than never for the Twin Cities!
July 22-August 8: XXII Commonwealth Games, Birmingham, England
After the Summer Olympics, the Commonwealth Games is the largest quadrennial international multi-sport event in the world. Up to 72 nations or territories, all members of the Commonwealth of Nations, and 5,000+ athletes are expected to compete in the 2022 edition in Birmingham, England.
Like its Winter Olympic counterpart in Beijing, the Birmingham organizing committee pledges to deliver the first carbon neutral Commonwealth Games. Three of its seven ‘sustainability pillars’ have to do with the environment:
- Carbon and Air Quality — In addition to the carbon neutrality pledge, the organizers are promoting low-emission travel options (i.e., mass transit, low-carbon aviation fueled flights where possible) and active travel (i.e., cycling, walking)
- Circular Economy/Minimize Waste — Includes dramatically reducing singule-use plastics, installing free drinking water refill stations, and renting equipment rather than buying where possible
- Conservation — The host committee is working to increase biodiversity levels, clearing 22 miles of canals through a partnership with the Canals & Rivers Trust. Perhaps most importantly, conservation and sustainability are embedded in the Games’ regional and international education programs.
September 3: Opening of Snapdragon Stadium, San Diego
That the opening of another LEED Gold sports venue — in this case, Snapdragon Stadium, which will be the home of San Diego State University Aztecs football — is not really news anymore is, well, news. Green sports venues have become the rule rather than the exception in what seems like a blink of an eye.
To be sure, there are venues like Climate Pledge Arena, the renovated net zero carbon home of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, that push the envelope of green venue construction and operation. Those are newsworthy.
But Snapdragon Stadium, a lovely, intimate 35,000 seater, is an example of how environmental sustainability is becoming almost as endemic to sports and entertainment venues as concession stands.
September 27-28: Sport Positive Summit III, Wembley Stadium, London
The quality of the first two Sport Positive Summits — both conducted virtually due to COVID — make it must-attend for anyone interested in Green-Sports.
Claire Poole, its founder and driving force, is planning for the third edition to be an in-person event at London’s Wembley Stadium at the end of September. There may be a way to attend virtually as well.
November 8-20: COP27 Global Climate Conference, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt
Sports had its biggest showing ever at a COP global climate conference last November in Glasgow. Almost every day of the 26th two-week conclave featured some sort of sports-related programming, highlighted by the Sport@COP Athletes Day of Action. More than 300 athletes, team and sponsor executives, academics and more — most of whom could not get to Scotland — also made their presence felt by signing on to the COP26 Sports Community Manifesto.
Did the sports world’s activity at and around COP have an impact on the delegates who drafted the agreement that left the world well short of the needed actions that would ‘Keep 1.5 Alive’? That question is impossible to answer. Anecdotally, it’s likely that outside pressure, including from the sports world probably had some marginal effect.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, progress among the 200 national delegations was limited, so much so that the nations of the world are reconvening this November at COP27 to see if they can accelerate their collective climate ambition.
With the FIFA Men’s World Cup kicking off in Qatar the day after COP27 ends, the spotlight will be on the sports community to keep the pressure on.
Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt is not nearly as accessible as London so the sports world’s on-the-ground presence may be limited. That means athletes as well as leaders from other corners of the sports world will need to use their powerful social and traditional media megaphones to push the delegates to do their part to make more progress on the #ClimateComeback.
November 21-December 18: FIFA Men’s World Cup, Various Sites in Qatar
The Qatar 2022 Men’s World Cup has been mired in controversy ever since the country was selected to host by FIFA in 2010.
It is being played in November-December rather than in the traditional June-July window because the summer heat — exacerbated by climate change — is unbearable and dangerous for players and fans alike.
There is credible evidence that FIFA officials were bribed to award the world’s most watched sports event to the tiny oil producing nation on the Persian Gulf.
Since then, approximately 6,500 migrant workers, from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, have been reported to have died in the construction of the eight World Cup stadiums. Click here for a detailed February 2021 report from The Guardian for more. The local Qatar organizing committee disputes this, saying that 34 workers have died during the same period.
Looking at the event through environmental and climate lenses offers at best a cloudy view.
On the one hand, the organizers claim that the World Cup will be carbon neutral. All eight stadiums are said to be on track to receive at least 4-star GSAS certification — a Middle East/North Africa analog to LEED. One of the venues, Stadium 974, is made from recycled shipping containers — its name comes from the number of containers used. The stadium’s owners say its modular design reduced waste during production and construction. It will be dismantled at the end of World Cup, with materials expected to be re-used for building multiple smaller stadiums.
On the other hand, if the committee achieves carbon neutrality, it will do so primarily through carbon offsets (organizers point to their commitment to plant 1 million trees); actual emissions reductions will likely be a tiny component. And those real emissions cuts are what’s needed in a country that relies on petroleum for its tremendous wealth and has one of the highest per capita carbon footprints on the planet.
November 22: Acting Green Forum II, Bogotá, Colombia
The inaugural Acting Green Forum, the first Green-Sports to 1) originate from Latin America and, 2) focus on how sports and athletes can make a difference on environmental and climate issues in the region, drew more than 500 virtual attendees who listened in both Spanish and English. Organizers expect that the 2022 version will also be virtual; an in-person component in Bogotá is being discussed.
Photo at top: Stadium 974 in Qatar (Photo credit: Qatar 2022)