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  • Annabel Sides

Sport + Pandemics

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

From Green Planet Sport: Sharing thinking for a better future.

We have all seen and felt the impact of the pandemic on sport. From the weekend warrior, to community sport, older adults, children, sport for the homeless and marginalized people, our Olympic, Paralympic and World Champion athletes, everyone has been impacted. The effects on the physical and mental health of those usually engaged in sport and physical activity, in particular young and already isolated and disadvantaged people, has been significant.

We have seen sports people and sports use their agency to encourage people around the world to engage in new hygiene practices and to get vaccinated to expediate a return to sport. A step further some clubs and leagues have set up health education centers, vaccination hubs and food security support. A step further there are a sports leaders who recognize the pandemic is a zoonotic disease, a disruption caused by human activity and who are working tirelessly to win the race against the clock on climate change. These groups are on varying positions of the regenerative sport continuum, however collectively they see the pandemic as period in time where they must support and be part of their communities, mobilize communities including local and global fans and bring hope through action.

There are many examples internationally and here are two specific Australian examples.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) joined forces with 13 of Victoria’s most recognizable footy faces in a call-to-arms for Victorians to book and receive their COVID-19 vaccine. Conceived and delivered by the Melbourne Cricket Club, manager of the MCG, Victorians have been called on to #BePartOfTheTeam.

North Melbourne football club ran two social media campaigns from their AFLM and AFLW players encourage fans and community to #GetTheJab and get back to the things we love. The Huddle also supported pop up vaccination hubs in the western regions of Melbourne.

Although we have returned to relative normality here in Australia, the global pandemic continues. There are still millions of people at risk as vaccines are yet to be available to some of the most disadvantaged people in developed and developing countries. It leaves children particularly vulnerable in these places, as they continue to lose carers and family members where vaccines and health care is not available.

It is hard to believe that as we meet the challenge to ‘build back better’ post pandemic, that it is not this pandemic that will be the biggest challenge that sport will face this decade. The biggest challenge will be the continuing decline in planetary health and the associated complexity of disruptions that arise when we continue to exceed planetary boundaries. Disruptions to our #3ecosystems, the natural, social and economic worlds, where the equilibrium needed for a healthy planet, healthy people and safe and secure economics and intergovernmental relations is out off balance.

Reports from around the world clearly document the effects of climate change on sport that are clearly visible and tangible. Pandemics are not often clearly articulated in this future disruption profile. In Australia, Game, Set, Match: Calling Time on Climate Action and David Goldblatt’s report Playing Against the Clock are two of an increasing number.

Furthermore in generic media what was once referred to as ‘unprecedented’ weather events are now routinely expressed as climate disruptions and impacts. Eroding shore lines that are quite literally eating away at Scotland’s golf links, regular flooding sports precincts, increasing severity and longevity of bush fire seasons that see smoke choked air and soaring temperatures disabling international and community sport alike. The fires and floods cause infrastructure damage, push local amenity repair and replacement bills and insurance costs soaring. Melting snow caps and shorter snow seasons are reducing international snow sports training facility viability and threaten the hosting potential of Winter Paralympic and Olympic venues. Decline in water quality, reef health and rising sea levels are impacting traditional surf breaks of the World Surf League. With more looming tipping points we do not know when the future scientific predictions will be realized or surpassed.

Strategies and frameworks and communities of practice are available, strengthening and increasing for the sports community, thanks to the work of some amazing individuals over a long period of time and their support of new players in the field of sport ecology and regenerative sport. From the UNFCCC Sports For Climate Action Framework, The Sport Ecology Group, Sport Positive and continental, government, NGO and national peak bodies for sport and climate action.

COP26 had many strengths and weaknesses. Three strengths we at Green Planet Sport identified are the continued growth of sport as an X factor to accelerate ambition and action the continued focus on nature based solutions and ecosystem protection and a growing public recognition of climate justice and the disproportionate effect of warming on front line communities, including our pacific island neighbors.

COP26 also brought us the words of Sir David Attenborough

“Is this how our story is due to end? A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all too human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short term goals. Perhaps the fact that the people most affected by climate change are no longer some imagined future generation, but young people alive today, perhaps that will give us the impetus we need to rewrite our story, to turn this tragedy into a triumph. We are after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth. We now understand this problem. We know how to stop the number rising and put it in reverse. We must recapture billions of tons of carbon from the air. We must fix our sights on keeping one and a half degrees within reach….If working apart, we are force powerful enough to destabilize our planet, surely, working together, we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery.”

And, the unscripted words of World Athletics Athletes whose lived experiences have driven their request to world leaders in their campaign #WeCanStillFix.

This shows a deep understanding by the athletic community and the lived experience of exceeding our planetary boundaries, that they want to do something about it and they believe together we can.

“Our planet is literally on fire. However enormous and incomprehensible the climate crisis is, whether it’s violent weather, famines, forest fires and forced human relocation, we should find comfort in the fact that it’s entirely our own creation. The guilt we feel that we are it’s cause should also empower us that we are still the authors of our own destiny.” | Lisanne De Witte, Netherlands, OLY

So, when we hear and know the context of sport as having an impact on climate and the impact climate has on sport when we shift slightly and focus in on the 2020 IPBES report “IPBES #PandemicsReport : Escaping the Éra’of pandemics” and read this research, we come to the realisation that the pandemic is not over, there is likely to be future pandemics and we have much to do in sport to work towards a better climate future and better health.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic – or of any modern pandemic”, said Dr. Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance and Chair of the IPBES workshop. “The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”

Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas, and through measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the spill over of new diseases, says the report.

There are an increasing number of frameworks, systems and accreditation available to the sport sector to address the E in ESG. There are a range of approaches too.

At Green Planet Sport we believe you will be part of the solution to reduce pandemic impacts in the future and reduce your impacts on biodiversity loss, expand protection of areas and reduce unmaintainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions, furthering the value of natural capital in your spheres of influence if you;

  • Educate your organisation on the importance of nature and the connection between business restoring natural ecosystems and reducing the risk of future pandemics (among other things)

  • apply a biodiversity and nature solutions lens to your decision making, this guides the further building of climate positive partnerships

  • take an opportunities not a risk approach to mitigation and adaptation. Set targets for emissions across all scopes.

  • break down silos across your business so that supply chain is transparent. Ask each of your partners and suppliers what they are doing to be regenerative and how you can support them. Identify where on the regenerative sport continuum you are and where you want to be as a business and with your partnership profile.

  • collaborate to bring climate positive partnerships to life within and external to your organisations where staff, athletes, officials, fans, suppliers and partners are working with you to take action to protect of nature and wildlife through measuring and reducing scopes of emissions and working towards a framework such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

  • view fan engagement as a partnerships not consumer sales relationship considering the opportunity for values based engagement and membership. Include connections to nature and wildlife in fan engagement. Consider fan engagement projects like Count Us in, The New Joneses or Pledgeball.

  • seek connection to academia and research and a community of practice for example join the United Nations Sports For Climate Action Framework and/or Sports Environment Alliance Australia and follow industry leads like The Sustainability Report, The Sport Ecology Group and Sport Positive.

  • embrace technology and new innovations and step towards a different future, areas with significant impacts include food, energy, materials and merchandising/fashion. From engineering to digital and virtual solutions the amazing world of STEM is at your fingertips.

  • embrace circular economy principles

  • Create a bespoke purpose project to support a nature based program of work, for example the Richmond Football Club is looking to save their mascot, the IOC is planting an Olympic Forest and Australia wide signatories to the Darwin Agreement are supporting the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Look at your sports connection to nature and start there. Is water your world or turf or the alpine regions?

  • Use your platform and voice and support athletes to do the same. Check out The Cool Down, Athletes of the World and EcoAthletes

  • Engage young people in designing and planning. It is their future.

  • share knowledge and learning within the sector.

  • Read about the work of organisations leading the way from SailGP, The Ocean Race, Extreme E, Birmingham FA Save Today Play Tomorrow program and the World Surf League

  • show vulnerability and start today, wherever you may be on your journey to keep warming within 1.5 degrees and support planetary health of our ecosystems and wildlife.

  • Examine decision making so your work is fair and just. Keep on with the work you do to support communities. Resilient communities are better able to manage climate disruption and take climate action.

  • Acknowledge, learn from, value and be allys to Traditional Owners of the lands on which you operate and engage in projects and the connection to country and vast knowledge of caring for country, the lands and waterways, that First Nations people have.

  • Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

We see this as being regenerative. Not sustainable, green, eco, environmentally friendly. Regenerative.

It is changing and challenging the status quo, flipping it, innovating.

This is not treading water to stop from sinking, this is swimming.

Every sport is at a different point on their regenerative sport journey. That is OK. We can all swim further with some coaching, encouragement and someone throwing us a line every now and then.

To find out more about Regenerative Sport Culture, Climate Positive Partnerships, and Bespoke Regenerative Purpose Projects visit


Annabel Sides, Founder

Green Planet Sport

Regenerative Sport © Green Planet Sport 2021

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