News06 Oct 2022

Sustainability and sport in the spotlight at 2022 Sport Positive Summit


The 2022 Sport Positive Summit in London (© Sport Positive Summit)

With a month to go until the United Nations COP27 Climate Summit, leading industry figures working in the intersection between sustainability and sport gathered under the iconic arch at Wembley Stadium, London, for the 2022 Sport Positive Summit this week (4-5). 

Held in association with United Nations Climate Change (UNCC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the event saw hundreds of delegates including representatives from international governing bodies, professional clubs, major events, non-profit organisations, media, athletes and suppliers come together to discuss, debate and share best practice on climate action in sport.  

"Whole Olympic nations may disappear, how can we do nothing about it?" asked Julie Duffus, the IOC's senior sustainability manager, on day one to emphasise the gravity of the challenge for sport and the wider world.

A total of 410 decision-makers and influencers attended the annual conference in-person with another 100 participating virtually from across the world. Among the topics covered were innovation in sustainability, net zero strategies, the role of athletes, the commercial potential of sustainability, fan engagement, biodiversity and sport’s collective force on climate action. 

Speakers included Conor Barry, head of stakeholder engagement at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; Christian Stamm, senior sustainability and climate action manager at FIFA; Jaime McKeown, sustainability, diversity and inclusion manager at World Rugby and the game-changing owner of English professional football club Forest Green Rovers, Dale Vince. 

World Athletics, a sport industry partner for the event, was also represented. This gave the international governing body the opportunity to share some of its experiences, initiatives and accomplishments since the launch of its sustainability strategy in April 2020.

Head of sustainability Bob Ramsak took to the main stage on day one in a session entitled 'Moving From Commitment To Action'.

In the session, he shared some insights on progress made across the sport and explained the leverage World Athletics can have when embedding sustainability into the delivery of events.

“As an international federation we don't own teams but we do own our championship events and we licence events,” he explained. “We are building sustainability into that licencing process and into the bidding process for our championship events." 

That process is guided by two tools: a sustainable event management systems (SEMS) best practice guidance for one-day meetings to help organisers deliver their events more sustainably, and alongside that, an Athletics for a Better World Standard, a tiered certification that scores events on their sustainable delivery. That system was piloted by more than 50 events in 2022 and after another pilot year, will be put into effect in 2023. 

Since introducing the SEMS system in December, World Athletics has provided considerable support during the first pilot year through a 12-part in-depth webinar series that covers various elements of event delivery, on-site sustainable delivery audits and in-depth post-event one-on-one debriefs with organisers.

A sustainable delivery plan, designed to achieve a gold level status in the Better World Standard, will be required for all World Championships events from 2027.

On the wider network of one-day meetings – including Continental Tour events – Ramsak said that there have been some encouraging signs since the launch of the event guidance pilot, not only in the creation of new environmental initiatives, but it has also presented an opportunity to share best practice already in place.  

“It has also been really heartening seeing what some competitions are already doing and how they are delivering," he said.

“For example, the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku, Finland, the country's biggest annual athletics meeting, introduced water refill stations at its stadium a few years ago to encourage fans to bring their own water containers. It didn't take long for that one initiative to become the new 'business as usual'. It doesn’t take very long for these kinds of behaviour changes to become normal operating procedure. It's now just what fans do."

Ramsak also discussed how rising temperatures and air quality and pollution considerations are increasingly impacting where and when competitions can be safely staged.

Among the dozens of speakers at the two-day event was Aly Criscuolo, sustainability and corporate social responsibility director at the New York Road Runners. Participating in a session on “Supporting Green Spaces & Biodiversity”, Criscuolo discussed how the organisers behind the New York City Marathon are supporting their local environment through initiatives such as plogging.   

These initiatives from athletics and running event organisers are also fully in step with the position of athletes. Ramsak revealed that according to athletes surveyed at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 and World U20 Championships Cali 22, between "70% and 75% of our athletes are either extremely concerned or very concerned about the climate crisis".

In the run-in to COP27, which will take place between 6-18 November in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, World Athletics will be unveiling an athlete ambassadors programme around sustainability to further champion the cause of addressing climate change in the sport and beyond.  

Chris Broadbent for World Athletics