An aerial photo of a baseball stadium with flood water around it so it cannot be accessed.

Sport Ecology: Climate Action and the Need to Take Notice

You may have heard that heat is a concern for the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar. It is. So much so that the tournament has been moved from the traditional northern summer months to a much cooler November and December. And, while this concern for Qatar is largely related to its climate, it is not a concern unique to them alone.

In fact, many sports and sport organizations are concerned with how the environment will impact their activities (and therefore their bottom line): from decreasing snow pack in the mountains, to flooding concerns in coastal regions. Sport is impacted by its environment via the climactic conditions sport takes place within, the weather patterns and natural disasters disrupting play, and whether suitable and safe spaces exist for sport to take place. Sport is highly dependent upon the environment. However, this relationship also flows the opposite direction. The activity of sport also impacts the natural environment: travel creates emissions, landscapes are transformed to suit sport needs, resources (e.g., water, energy, raw material, and human) are consumed, and byproducts are created (e.g., wastes or residual toxins).

What is Sport Ecology?

Understanding this bidirectional relationship between sport and the natural environment is something that my colleagues and I call ‘sport ecology.’ All sports have a fundamental relationship with the environment that helps to describe how they evolved to be what they are today. Ice hockey came from frozen ponds in Canada, surfing from Polynesia, and even basketball from needing an indoor activity when it’s too cold outside. It’s important to understand ecological relations in order to better serve the sport, the people, and the business. You may have heard the uses of terms like ‘sustainability,’ ‘green,’ and ‘environmentalism.’ Those terms are common, but tell only part of the story of what we are trying to do. Sport ecology is more than environmental management, creating something lasting, or just being sensitive to the environment. It is about understanding the bidirectional relationship between the two – particularly how they relate to the activity of sport and the business of sport – and how all of the various environmental impacts of sport are part of a larger system contributing to climate change.

1.5 Degrees

If you only know one number related to climate change it should be this: 1.5. It only takes 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s it. That’s the limit. If the average global temperature rises 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the risks to our health, livelihoods, economic security, food security, and water supplies will be potentially irreversible. Above 1.5 degrees Celsius, we might lose entire nations like Maldives and Kiribati. It sounds scary, but it does not have to be. More and more international organizations, governments, businesses, and everyday people are recognizing the potential threat that a changing climate has to our way of life. The sport industry is no exception to this, and some sport organizations are taking the challenge of climate change on via climate action.

An aerial photo of Stadion Wankdorf (formerly Stade de Suisse) and its solar panels. Sport Ecology. Spark Solutions.
Stadion Wankdorf (formerly Stade de Suisse) and its solar panels

How Sport Ecology Can Help

This is where sport ecology comes into play. Understanding sport ecology helps these sport organizations take on climate action initiatives that are both climate positive and decrease their harmful environmental impacts (particularly greenhouse gas emissions with carbon being the main climate change villain). It’s more than recycling, y’all. Examples of these initiatives include participating in the United Nations Sport for Climate Action Framework (list of current signatories), creating organic playing fields, generating clean energy on site, sourcing local organic foods, encouraging the use of public transit, participating in tree planting and carbon offsetting programs, and creating apparel from plastics and coffee, amongst a variety of other initiatives too numerous to name.

This is the Beginning

If you are looking to get more information on climate action initiatives within sport, please consider reaching out to myself and my colleagues at the Sport Ecology Group. We are a group of academics who love sport, love the industry, and love the planet, who conduct current research in this area. We touch on everything from climate adaptation in sport, to fan engagement with environmental initiatives, to governmental environmental policy, to stadium design and operation, to environmental justice, to sport participant environmental impact, and a plethora of other topics. We are working on some amazing things like predicting climatological obstacles for future mega-events, to assessing the state of climate action in North American professional sport, and even measuring air quality at sport events. It’s some exciting stuff that we cannot wait to share. Please, reach out!

Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to some of our wonderful industry colleagues. Here is a non-exhaustive list of other great resources on the subject:

Thank you to Walker J. Ross, Ph.D., for writing this article on sport ecology. Walker is a Lecturer in Sport Management and Digital Marketing at the The University of Edinburgh. He’s passionate about studying the bidirectional relationship between sport and the natural environment with a particular focus on the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cups, and venues.

If you are interested to learn more, you may reach out to the Sport Ecology Group or contact Walker directly.

Walker J. Ross, Ph.D.. Sport Ecology. Spark Solutions.
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