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The Green Goal: How Can Sports and Sustainability Work Together for a Better Future?

Key points:

  • Expansion in countries participating in global competitions is increasing travel

  • The failure to secure hosting of mega sporting events in single locations

  • The increase in replica shirts and clothing sales through higher volumes, and the frequency of their change in design promoting obsolescence

I'll admit it, I'm a sports fan - a lifelong Liverpool FC supporter, golfer, and follower of a wide range of sports (thanks mainly to my sports mad husband who's been watching the NFL long before it became popular in the UK). I believe in the positive power of sport to bring people together, and the enormous mental health benefits that playing team sports can bring.

Half way through this year, we can see that 2024 will be known for two things: over 50% of the population experiencing political elections in their countries, and the huge amount of multinational sport that is happening.

For couch potatoes and sports fans everywhere 2024 is truly laying on a gourmet feast! From the Olympics to the World T20 Cricket, the Copa America, and of course the UEFA European Football Championship – all in addition to the regular round of F1 Grand Prix, World Rugby and 6 Nations tournaments, Wimbledon, and local domestic competitions in NFL, FA Premier League, IPL, and NBA - there's a lot happening.

But at what cost to the environment?

Once ‘local’ competitions are expanding to include teams from further afield increasing the need for them to travel (usually by air) to take part. We’ve seen the failure to secure single nation locations for some of the biggest sporting events result in multi-nation collaborations, due to the spiralling costs and worsening ROI for sponsors involved in supporting the events, again increasing the need for more extensive travel by both teams and the spectators. The British Commonwealth Games 2026 is now on a further search for a host city/nation having had 4 previous options turned down. The 2022 games in Birmingham almost bankrupted the whole city - even though it was deemed to have been a great success!!

Regardless of sport, although team sports of football, rugby, and cricket seem to be the worst, every season or event seems to require a new kit design – purely for commercial reasons. Every nation competing in the current UEFA Football Championship matches not only have at least two shirt options (to avoid confusion on pitch) but every shirt has the name of the two sides playing in that match and the date – making them immediately obsolete afterwards. Hugely expensive replica shirts are a vital source of income for most clubs – but so wasteful. The increasingly regular changing of kits requires dedicated fans to buy more ‘stuff’ when their old kits are still perfectly wearable.

Can we please press the ‘Pause’ button on this madness?

Sports teams are incredibly influential amongst their fan base. I think it’s about time that they started to take a lead on Sustainability and demonstrate a responsibility for minimising their negative impact on their fans’ future.

Why is the Sports industry seeming to allow Sustainability to pass it by?

Materials usage: I frankly don’t believe that simply making kits out of recycled or ‘sustainably sourced’ materials is enough when they are building in huge obsolescence through multiple design changes. That smacks of PR Greenwashing to me.

Transportation: When did we last see a team take the train to play in a competition? Electric powered coaches are also a great option, but decisions being made by the organisers are preventing these from being viable. By making the locations more distant, it is forcing teams and fans to travel by air – adding the small ‘compensation’ per ticket to off-set their carbon emissions just isn’t good enough.

As with every other industry, Sustainability is a choice that requires smarter thinking - and it's one that sports organisers, teams and fans need to take more seriously. It is possible to continue to have an exciting and vibrant sports scene that is also responsible and aware of its wider global impact.

In business, Sustainability tends to built into the DNA of smaller companies, whereas larger ones can often struggle to integrate even the easiest strategies to address their emissions and impacts – even though it can be very cost effective to do so. New and smaller businesses have often taken the time to understand and pre-empt their impact on the local environment and society - the same applies to local sports clubs

Turning Sustainability from a cost centre to a profit centre takes a few small steps. If you’d like to find out what these are, contact me and we’ll have a chat.

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