“Sport has the power to change the world” declared Nelson Mandela in his famous speech at the first Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco in 2000. Sport has indeed played a major role throughout history, safeguarding peace and uniting people. Now, as humanity faces a climate crisis – arguably its biggest challenge ever – sport must once again rise up to the occasion.
Sport in general, and major sport events in particular, have a special role to play in promoting and supporting sustainability. Building venues and infrastructure, gathering hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of the globe, accommodating and feeding them has an inherent environmental impact.
Whilst the footprint is hard to determine quantitatively over an extended period of time, according to official figures, the FIFA World Cups in South Africa (2010) and Brazil (2014) generated close to 2.8 millions tons of CO2e each and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio generated 4.5 million tons of CO2e. Combined, these 3 events generated emissions equivalent to burning 11 billion pounds of coal.
While the link between protection of the environment and sport events is not new — climate change was first mentioned in the official wrap-up report of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano — the issue has become crucial to most sport organizations recently. Some have even put sustainability at the top of their agenda, such as Paris 2024 and its ambitious target: becoming “the Greenest Games Ever”.