Despite the COVID-induced hellishness of 2020 and the disgusting, seditious depravity of 1/6, I am bullish about 2021.
Safe and efficacious vaccines as well as a new, sane administration in Washington, D.C. — one that promises to make the climate fight a core priority — offer real reasons for hope.
As for the sports world, COVID will continue to be the constant backdrop for much of 2021, at least until the vaccines are in billions of arms. While not center stage, the environment and climate change will also play important roles.
With that in mind, here is GSB annual What 2 Watch 4 in Green-Sports in 2021 column.
January 20: Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, Washington, D.C.
In light of the disgusting, heinous failed 1/6/21 coup attempt and the tragic impacts of COVID-19, Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States, will be unlike any in American history. Will the ceremony be moved from outside the Capitol to the House chamber (a la a State of the Union address) for security reasons? No matter the venue, in person attendance will be limited. There will be no inaugural balls. And the outgoing POTUS will (very) likely not be in attendance.
The swearing in of a new administration offers massive possibilities for the Green-Sports movement.
After all, Donald Trump, the man ex-Green Sports Alliance President Allen Hershkowitz calls “indisputably the most disastrous President for the human and planetary health in history,” is being succeeded by Joe Biden, who brings with him the most ambitious climate and environmental agenda of any President into the Oval Office.
To be sure, Green-Sports, if it appears at all, will be way down the list of President-Elect Biden’s environmental and climate priorities.
That said, the odds are that the Biden Administration will understand the power of sports — athletes in particular — to change hearts, minds and culture. There is a good chance that the sports will be engaged to help garner public support for climate action.
Biden as vice president had a front row seat for Green-Sports’ debut at the White House in 2012, when the Obama administration convened the first sports-environment roundtable, in partnership with the Green Sports Alliance. Four years later, on October 6, 2016, President Obama issued a proclamation in support of the first Green-Sports Day. The Trump Administration, not surprisingly, dropped the Green-Sports ball.
Here’s hoping that President Biden will pick up that Green-Sports ball early in his term and run with it.
February 8-21: Australian Open, Melbourne
Thanks to pre-tournament quarantines, the Australian Open has been pushed three weeks after its traditional late-January spot on the calendar. But it will still be played in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere summer, which has been plagued in recent years by dangerous bushfires and scalding heat.
Last year’s Open saw devastating bushfires impact large swaths of the country, including its Melbourne-area home. The qualifying tournament, played the week before the main draw, saw a blanket of smoke from nearby blazes envelop and sicken some of the players.
So far this bushfire season, Melbourne seems to be out of harm’s way. From the perspective of the players, fans and the rest of the tennis world, it will be a good thing if that continues and the Australian Open is spared.
Unfortunately, the people, flora and fauna of Perth and other areas of Western Australia, 2,000+ miles from Melbourne, are feeling the heat from the bushfires, which are exacerbated by climate change.
In 2020, the top stars in tennis played an exhibition tournament to raise funds to benefit those harmed by the fires.
Here are two hopes for this year’s Australian Open:
- There will be some sort fundraising effort from the tennis community on behalf of those suffering in Perth and elsewhere in Western Australia and,
- At least a few players acknowledge — and the media covers the acknowledgement — the role of climate change in the bushfires. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology support that position, asserting during the 2020 crisis that, “Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia”.
Sometime between March and December: Three new MLS stadiums open
Major League Soccer insiders expect that, despite COVID, the season will kickoff in March as usual. Some squads will start the season playing in front of limited crowds, the remainder will play in empty stadiums.
Three teams will be opening new venues this season.
Expansion franchise Austin F.C., the league’s 27th club, will call brand new McKalla Place Stadium home. All systems are ‘go’ for F.C. Cincinnati to open its new West End Stadium. And the Columbus Crew will follow up on its 2020 MLS championship by moving into the New Crew Stadium.
The stadiums, in addition to their stunning beauty, have one thing in common: Neither sustainability nor “greenness” seem to be a point of emphasis, at least as far as fan-targeted communications is concerned.
McKalla Place is LEED certified but there is no way of knowing what the club did to earn that designation on Austin F.C.’s website. The only green aspect the team highlights is outside the stadium walls — there are eight acres of open and green space, including nature trails. F.C. Cincinnati offers not one sentence on its website about the sustainability of West End Stadium. And the only green thing we were able to find out about New Crew Stadium is that it is built on a former Columbus brownfield site where soil and groundwater contamination was identified and cleaned up.
There are two possible explanations for this lack of publicly available sustainability information about the venues, neither of them good:
- The teams’ owners don’t believe there’s a benefit to “going green”, so they didn’t make the necessary sustainability-focused investments for their new stadiums. Since Austin F.C.’s facility did earn LEED certification, this answer does not apply to them for the most part.
- The owners do see advantages to going green but think that the fans don’t care.
The latter is a particular shame because MLS fans are the youngest of all the major team sports in North America. Millennials and GenZers are the most receptive generations to environmental and climate change messaging. These were opportunities missed.
July 23-August 8: Games of the XXXII Olympiad; Tokyo
It will be a year late, but the Olympic Flame will likely be lit atop Tokyo’s National Stadium on July 23.
I added the word ‘likely’ after reading reports that COVID cases are spiking in Japan, with more than 4,000 cases — a daily high for the country — recorded on Thursday.
It says here that the Games will be held because of the massive amounts of money involved.
Even if that’s the case, even if COVID vaccines are widely distributed by the time of the Opening Ceremonies, the pandemic will be the main off-the-field story:
- The Japanese public is largely opposed to the Games taking place at all — and that was the case before the current outbreak. An October poll by the Kyodo News wire service revealed that only 38 percent of the Japanese people support hosting the Games next summer, while 31 percent favor another postponement, with nearly a quarter wanting them canceled altogether.
- COVID ruined some athletes’ Olympic dreams and gave others’ an unexpected second change to come true.
- How many fans will be allowed to attend and how many will want to do so?
Other issues will hopefully be able to gain some traction, with extreme heat likely being one of them. Consider that, between July 24 and August 9 of 2019, the daily high temperature in Japan’s capital city averaged 92°F (33.3°C), six degrees above the 30-year average.
The late July-early August time period has long been known for sweltering temperatures in Japan’s capital. That’s why the 1964 Tokyo Games took place during the much more temperate mid-to-late October.
Fast forward to 2021 and, thanks to the effects of climate change, even October might be too hot.
“Fundamentally, we should not be having the Tokyo Olympics in midsummer,” said Makoto Yokohari, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Tokyo. “Considering climate change, now it should be held in November (ITALS my emphasis).”
Why not have an October or November Tokyo Olympics nowadays? The main reason, it seems to me, has to be that the IOC wants to avoid competing for viewers with the world’s top soccer leagues, the NFL and college football. Hence, Summer Olympics are now only contested between late June and mid August, before pro soccer leagues and American football kick off.
Which means that the men’s and women’s marathons, plus the race walking events, have been moved to the much cooler Sapporo, host city for the 1972 Winter Olympics, 500 miles north. Back in Tokyo, organizers are installing misting fans, designating cooling areas, and will pass out ice packs to spectators, volunteers and athletes.
Finally, assuming the Games take place, there’s a good chance that climate-fighting NGO’s will have some sort of presence at the Olympics. Several of them, domestic and international, have been pushing the Japanese government — the only G7 country to still be building coal-fired power plants — to “say no to coal”.
We will be watching to see if there will be protests on the ground, and if any athletes get involved. If so, will the IOC invoke Rule 50, which restricts the ability for Olympians to invoke politics during the Games when they are within the Olympic footprint?
Watch this space.
September 28-29: Sport Positive Summit II, Wembley Stadium, London
Last year’s inaugural Sport Positive Summit, originally planned for mid-March in London, was, like most every conference on the planet, was postponed until early October and pushed to the virtual realm.
As an attendee and a panel moderator, I am happy to say that the quality of the event — from innovative content to incredibly easy and pleasant networking to the IT — was top notch. Thanks to the efforts of founder Claire Poole¹ and her team, Sport Positive is now a welcome addition to the annual Green-Sports Summit calendar, taking its place alongside the Green Sports Alliance’s yearly confab.
Ever the optimist, Poole is planning for the 2021 Summit to be in person in London at Wembley Stadium at the end of September. Will vaccine distribution be sufficient by that time to make people feel safe to travel long distances?
If so, great! If not, as long as Poole & Co. use the Brella networking platform (the best I’ve experienced) again, then I heartily recommend that GSB readers.
¹ Claire Poole is a member of the EcoAthletes advisory board
Photo at top: Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia was forced to retire from her 2020 Australian Open qualifying match due to smoke inhalation. The smoke came from the bushfires burning not far from downtown Melbourne (Photo credit: Twitter)