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Blog Post 5 November 2021

The power of sport to address the climate crisis

On Thursday 4 November – Energy Day at COP26 – Sky Sports News presenter Mike Wedderburn and a panel of guests talked about the role of sport in helping to reduce global carbon emissions and address the climate crisis.

Just one day earlier, the UNFCCC’s Sports for Climate Action Framework (S4CA) – which boasts over 270 signatories including several Formula 1 racing teams, the international Olympic Committee and FIFA – announced ambitious new climate targets for sport, including reaching net zero by 2040 and halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The aim of S4CA is to bring together sports organisations, teams, athletes and fans to raise awareness of the aims of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as well as make changes in these sports to reduce their impact on the environment.

Mike Wedderburn was joined on the panel by Russell Seymour, CEO of the British Association for Sustainable Sport (BASIS), Inga Ruehl, executive director of production services and operations at Sky Sports, and Joe Cooke, cricketer for Glamorgan County Cricket in the UK. Before the conversation kicked off, we got an exclusive first look of a new Sky Sports documentary on how the climate crisis is directly impacting cricket. You can watch it below:

Cricket’s climate crisis

Cricket is a sport that is already witnessing and suffering from the direct impact of a changing climate. Many Test nations are in parts of the world particularly at risk from the impact of global temperature rises, including Pakistan, India, West Indies and Sri Lanka. And elsewhere, droughts, wildfires and flooding have led to cricket matches at all levels being cancelled or postponed – in South Africa, Australia and England, respectively.

At home in the UK, which may seem further removed from the direct impact of climate change, flooding has caused long-term damage to grassroots cricket clubs and led to many abandoned games. A 2017 report, which named cricket as the pitch sport most vulnerable to climate impacts, found that over 25% of England’s home one-day internationals since 2000 had been cut short because of rain.

So, with the sport already experiencing the direct effects of a changing climate, what role can cricket – and sport more widely – play in reducing carbon emissions?

‘Imagine the impact’

In his opening remarks, Wedderburn used the example of football. He said: “3.5 billion people follow football. And when I say follow football, that means we’re obsessed by football. We’re obsessed by the game, by our clubs, by the players, and we are super obsessed by our star player. Now imagine if we get those clubs, those players, those star players and the game on board. Imagine the impact that could have.”

Key to this impact is what Wedderburn described as “normalising the conversation about the climate crisis and sport” to help weave it into everyday conversations. But it’s not just up to the sport, to the teams or the players. It’s about helping the fans understand that they can each make a very small change, which would have a massive impact when those changes all add up.

For fans, some of those small changes could include:

  • Walking or cycling to your next game or match, either as a player or spectator. If you can’t do that, why not lift share or organise a bus from your club to an away game?
  • When heading to a game, think about what you’re going to eat. Joe Cooke told us that he eats a vegetarian diet, while another Glamorgan cricketer follows a vegan diet – which has a much lower impact on the environment than eating meat in every meal.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle! Many cricket and football clubs across the UK have now replaced disposable plastic beer cups with reusable ones. We heard from Robert Edbon, MCC estates director at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, about the introduction of a cup that can be used over a hundred times. “We were buying 800,000 single use plastic beer cups every year and we don’t do that anymore,” Robert said.

Making sporting events more sustainable

How can the sport industry improve its sustainability credentials and reduce its impact on the environment? Well, in a bold statement, Russell said: “the most sustainable event is the one that never happens” – which though true, is understandably not possible! So, what’s the answer?

“We’ve got lazy,” Russell said. “That’s why we’re using single-use plastics. We’ve got to that position for a reason, but we’re now at the point where we’re understanding that that’s having a significant impact – so surely we can turn that around.” He admitted that there’s always going to be an impact when you put on a sporting event, but by looking at each element of that event – from energy to catering to transport – and reducing the impact of those elements, that’s how to put on an event in the most sustainable way.

Head to our Climate talk at COP26 hub to keep up to date with the latest news and announcements from the climate conference.

Last updated: 5 November 2021