News article

Creating a level playing field for sport ecology across EU

April 11 2023

Exploring the factors contributing to the uneven progress of sustainability initiatives in the European Union (EU) sports industry and proposing solutions for creating a more level playing field.

Creating a level playing field for sport ecology across EU

According to the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is already here, and urgent measures need to be undertaken and urgently implemented in order to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs).

The EU has already set a series of ambitious legislations and strategies with the intention to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, including the intermediate target of at least 55 per cent net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Starting from the ‘European Green Deal’, the ‘European Climate Pact’, the ‘2050 long-term strategy’, the ‘EU strategy on climate change adaptation’, and the ‘new circular economy action plan’ the EU clearly focuses on climate neutrality, and environmental and economic sustainability in all sectors of the European economy.

In this framework, relatively recently, the concept of sustainability has gained momentum in the sports industry.

European professional football leagues are increasingly concerned about their environmental impact. The German first football division (Bundesliga) has included sustainability in its licensing criteria, and Sport Positive leagues have been rating football clubs based on their environmental performance in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France.

Although those initiatives are promising, it’s pretty visible that some countries, mostly in north and central Europe, are ahead of others, which is not aligned with the EU’s vision of a holistic transition to a European sustainable future. This article will explore the factors that contribute to the uneven progress of the sports industry in sustainability and ecology within the EU and discuss potential solutions for creating a more level playing field.

 

Challenges and opportunities

There are several key challenges that hinder the implementation of environmental sustainability in the sports industry. These challenges include the lack of upfront investment for environmental solutions, the lack of expertise among professionals in the sports industry, and legislation that makes sustainability mandatory. Therefore, countries with progressive national legislation and funding for sustainability initiatives are more likely to be leaders in the industry.

In addition, countries with long tradition and innovation in sustainability are more likely to implement successful sustainability initiatives in their sport events.

A small-scale sport event organiser in Austria will not face as many sustainability-related challenges as a sport organiser in Greece or Italy, because the infrastructure for waste separation and effective management is already in place and there is an efficient local public transport system that can massively reduce Scope 3 (indirect) emissions of the event.

In the European south, a sport event organiser that is committed to sustainability will have to put a certain (large) amount of the budget aside for setting up waste separation bins, and organizing coaches for the transportation of participants and fans to and from the sport event location, just to name but a few.

Also, I have been, personally, involved in a situation where in country A, the municipality of the event’s location has provided the funding for a sustainability report of the event (including economic, social and environmental impacts), compared to country B, where the event organisers had to make a special request for having some extra bins on the event’s day.

Looking at the big picture, event owners and organising committees will have to either place their events only in a few more progressed countries, in terms of sustainability, excluding in that way several countries and locations, or they should deal with additional costs and challenges when putting in place an event to a ‘’less sustainable’’ country.

If we, also, consider sport events as enablers for social and environmental sustainability, then the aforementioned scenario has the potential to create a vicious circle, where most of the countries will not have the chance to improve their sustainability performance in a sport event context. Consequently, the uneven progress could hinder the overall progress of the sports industry in sustainability and ecology.

The way forward

To address the differences in progress, sports organizations, national governments, and the EU need to work together to promote sustainability initiatives and create a more level playing field. Following the example of the ‘’LIFE Tackle’’ project, funded by the EU, where the participating national football associations of Italy, Romania, and Sweden worked collaboratively to address sustainability challenges across Europe, there should be more funding, collaboration opportunities and knowledge exchange across the EU.

International and European sport federations like UEFA, World and European Athletics can work as leaders in the industry, being the ‘’umbrella’’ organization and providing the platform for sharing best practices, testing new innovative environmental solutions and creating industry-specific, mandatory requirements.

Such initiatives could help accelerate the progress of the sports industry in sustainability and ecology within the EU.

Conclusion

While the sports industry in some EU countries has made significant strides towards sustainability, there is still a significant disparity in progress across the EU. This can be attributed to various factors, including legislation, funding, and expertise differences.

However, to accelerate the industry’s progress as a whole, it is necessary to promote collaboration, knowledge exchange, and funding opportunities at a national and European level.

By doing so, the sports industry can play a vital role in the transition to a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.

Read moreIoannis Konstantopoulos, The Sports Footprint

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