Leadership in sustainability (© Christel Saneh)
World Athletics has marked Earth Day by announcing that it will embed mandatory sustainability requirements into all the competitions that it owns or sanctions, in an effort to drive down the environmental impact of the sport.
Embedding principles of sustainability into event delivery is a core component of the World Athletics Sustainability Strategy, a 10-year road map unveiled in April 2020 whose goals include transitioning to carbon neutrality across all of its operations and owned events by 2030.
To assist organisers in delivering more sustainable events, the organisation has developed two tools that work in tandem: a Sustainable Events Management System available in English, French and Spanish, which offers best practice guidance that covers 15 key areas of event planning and delivery, and the Athletics for a Better World Standard, a certification that measures and scores an event’s achievement in sustainable delivery.
The Athletics for a Better World Standard will be scalable so that any event at any level, from a local parkrun or club track meeting to a World Championships, should be able to reach the highest standard of sustainable event achievement. The standard will be tiered, with gold, silver and bronze levels that will eventually have to be met as part of the sanctioning process.
Cities bidding to host upcoming World Athletics Series events, for which bids launch in the latter half of 2022, will be required to commit to a gold level achievement, making sustainability a core feature of our future events. World Athletics is urging all of its sanctioned events to pilot the system at its 2022 and 2023 editions before implementing it in 2023 and 2024.
World Athletics has also approached the organisers of each of its one-day meeting series events – the World Athletics Continental Tour, the World Athletics Indoor Tour, the Wanda Diamond League, the World Athletics Combined Events, Cross Country and Race Walking tours and the World Athletics Label Road Races – to offer support in planning and implementation of sustainability initiatives. This has taken the form of a series of webinars which began in December and examine in detail various elements of sustainable event delivery. One-on-one support has also been provided along with a regularly updated library of related ‘how-to’ stories in the sustainability section of the World Athletics website.
“When we launched our strategy, I said our ambition is to be a leader in organising sustainable events as we go forward. That ambition will already bear fruit in 2022,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. “The system we’re putting in place will be embedded into our bidding and sanctioning process and will make a measurable difference in the environmental and social impact of our events.”
While this requirement was among the year three deliverables of the World Athletics Sustainability Strategy, it is firmly in line with the concerns of athletes.
Of the athletes surveyed at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 and World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships Muscat 22 in March, 77% said they were either seriously concerned or very concerned about climate change. Nearly 70% said that climate change has already impacted our sport. And more than 85% said that World Athletics should do more to help build a sustainable future.
WCH Oregon 22 - setting a new standard of sustainability
Sustainability will also be a priority for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, whose local organising committee will also pilot the Athletics for a Better World Standard.
Some of the key elements of Oregon’s sustainability plan include:
• a focus on materials management that looks at the lifecycle impacts of materials, ensuring materials can be reused or recycled,
• a “Bring Your Own Water Bottle” campaign encouraging fans and participants to bring their own empty water bottles and fill up at one of the many water stations that will be positioned around Hayward Field,
• minimising the impact of transportation by encouraging fans and participants to use alternative and active modes of transportation, including walking and bike riding,
• reducing carbon emissions by using renewable and bio fuels in its transportation fleet, and
• purchasing 100% renewable power from the local utility company to power operations at event facilities.
Sustainability events on each continent
World Athletics’ sustainability efforts will also reach each of its six continental areas in 2022 through athlete and fan-driven campaigns.
An Area Sustainability Outreach campaign was launched last week in North America, where the return of the Carifta Games was celebrated by an initiative to plant a forest in host country Jamaica. So far, contributions have been raised to plant more than 2600 trees.
Following suit, each element of the campaign will coincide with major events taking place on each continent. An Oceania campaign will follow in early June to coincide with the Oceania Championships in Mackay, Australia.
The World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 will be the focal point of the South America campaign in early August, followed by Europe and the European Championships later that month and Asia one month later when the Asian Games take the spotlight.
The campaign will culminate in Africa in November around the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference which will take place in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt. The ultimate aim is to plant 100,000 trees around the world by the end of the year.