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IBU World Cup 2023: How key partnerships can reduce fan travel emissions

March 14 2024

As a winter sport, biathlon is all too aware of the growing impact of climate change – and its own role in contributing to the climate crisis.

IBU World Cup 2023: How key partnerships can reduce fan travel emissions

From the environmental impact of the sport’s materials, to the waste generated by events and sport’s impact on biodiversity, there are many areas that the International Biathlon Union (IBU), the sport’s international governing body, must address.

Importantly, with over 96% of the IBU’s carbon emissions sitting in Scope 3, biathlon – along with the rest of the industry – still needs to dramatically reduce the impact of high-carbon travel to its events.

But, after a partnership with a public train operator, last year’s 2023 IBU Biathlon World Cup saw some startling changes to fan travel behaviour – and the event may offer some key lessons for the rest of the industry.

Sustainability and travel

The IBU has formally addressed sustainability since 2019, and recently the body published its third annual Sustainability Report.

The IBU’s vision is to ‘establish biathlon as a leader in promoting sustainability’, and major objectives include reducing the carbon footprint of biathlon by 50%, ensuring all waste from venues and events is re-used, recycled or composted, and becoming a leader in good governance, gender equality and diversity.

The IBU has used a carbon footprint tool to gather emissions data from its events since the 2019-20 season.

Last year’s 2022-23 season saw the return of spectators to all events for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic. This means that the body was able to gather a full set of data, including spectator travel, for the first time in three years.

The most recent Sustainability Report, published this week, shows that 93% of the IBU’s emissions come from its events, including the IBU World Cup.

Overall, 96% of these emissions from events fall into Scope 3. Travel to the host country generated 32,444 tonnes of CO2e in 2022-23, compared to 2,009 tCO2e for food and 1,529 tCO2e for energy.

As in so many other sports, it’s clear that travel is a huge area that needs to be addressed if biathlon is to meet its emissions reduction targets.

“We know that spectator travel and travel of the athletes, and the group of people who are required to deliver the event, is a core component of carbon emissions,” Riika Rakic, Head of Strategy, Sustainability & Governance at IBU, tells Global Sustainable Sport. “We’ve been trying to really work on that, because that will also significantly reduce our total emissions.”

Last summer, almost 100 organising committee representatives discussed initiatives to reduce fan travel emissions at the IBU’s annual meeting.

But biathlon is not alone. As Global Sustainable Sport recently reported, travel – both of athletes and fans – is a major problem across the industry.

There have been some notable efforts to address this, and to encourage fans in particular to choose lower-carbon options.

Plans for year’s EURO 2024, which will take place in Germany in June and July, include a partnership with train operator Deutsche Bahn, which will allow ticket-holders to buy discounted train tickets for travel across Germany.

Meanwhile, last year’s Rugby World Cup saw French train operator SNCF come on board as an official sponsor of the event, in which 70% of athletes’ and officials’ journeys for the tournament were by train.

But each sport event has its own context: the location, scheduling, typical fan base and local context means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing high-impact travel.

Biathlon events, for example, often take place in smaller, more remote areas, which can be difficult to reach using public transport.

So what do events need to consider if they want to offer meaningful travel alternatives for fans?

17.12.2023, Lenzerheide, Switzerland (SUI): Elvira Oeberg (SWE), Julia Simon (FRA), Lisa Vittozzi (ITA), Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold (NOR), Lena Haecki-Gross (SUI), Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (FRA), Hanna Oeberg (SWE), (l-r) - IBU World Cup Biathlon, mass women, Lenzerheide (SUI). www.nordicfocus.com. © Manzoni/NordicFocus.

17.12.2023, Lenzerheide, Switzerland (SUI): Elvira Oeberg (SWE), Julia Simon (FRA), Lisa Vittozzi (ITA), Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold (NOR), Lena Haecki-Gross (SUI), Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (FRA), Hanna Oeberg (SWE), (l-r) - IBU World Cup Biathlon, mass women, Lenzerheide (SUI). www.nordicfocus.com. © Manzoni/NordicFocus.

Case study: 2023 IBU Biathlon World Cup

Last December’s 2023 IBU Biathlon World Cup took place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, which lies around 140km from Zürich and 170km from Lucerne.

A small and relatively remote location, there is only one road in and out of Lenzerheide, and event organisers have been looking to find ways to reduce road traffic to the location.

“Public transport is an important issue for us, from a logistical point of view,” Jürg Capol, Director at CEO a IBU Biathlon Lenzerheide, tells Global Sustainable Sport.

Surveys conducted by IBU during the 2022-23 season found that, on average, 70% of fans travelling to IBU World Cup events travel between 20-200km, and almost 80% of these fans travel by car – primarily using gasoline or diesel.

But, for this year’s World Cup in Lenzerheide, Capol and his team wanted to promote train travel as an alternative.

To do this, the team partnered with the Swiss national rail company SBB to offer free public transport to and from the event from anywhere within Switzerland. The offer also included free shuttle bus transport covering the last stretch to the venue.

This initiative was similar to that offered by last year’s IBU World Championships in Oberhof, Germany, where the organising committee included free public transport for ticket-holders travelling within 50km.

Capol and the team received positive feedback on the initiative from fans, particularly those who were travelling from further away.

But, most significantly, survey data showed just how dramatically the offer had changed fan’s travel choices.

On average, 80% of fans travelling to IBU World Cup events travel by private car – but for Lenzerheide, this dropped to 36%.

Meanwhile, fewer than 20% of fans travel to World Cup events by train, but this jumped to 57% for Lenzerheide.

“Jürg and the team successfully held an event that showed a marked decrease in emissions coming from travel by car,” says Rakic.

This startling data gives us a first glimpse into just how impactful tailored offers, and public or private partnerships, can be.

If these kinds of initiatives were replicated at more and more events, both within and beyond biathlon, the emissions reductions would be dramatic.

Biathlon Lenzerheide - WC2023 © Christian Danuser

Biathlon Lenzerheide - WC2023 © Christian Danuser

Lessons for the industry

The 2023 IBU World Cup shows how dramatically fan behaviour can change if sport can build partnerships and offer genuinely attractive alternatives.

If more and more sports created targeted campaigns in this way, the resulting reduction in carbon emissions would be substantial.

But understanding local needs is important, and it’s clear that these kinds of initiatives rely on reliable infrastructure. “It’s important that the public transport system has to work,” says Capol.

Critically, developing partnerships – whether with local, national or international transport providers – is key.

“If I had my way, in future we’d have more of these offers,” says Rakic. “But it requires something that sport has not really been pursuing until now, which is these sorts of private partnerships. The only way we can have public transportation offers for venues if we have the support of public infrastructure.”

But understanding fans’ needs, behaviours and options is vital too – so that the options that event organisers offer their fans are realistic.

“As sports we have to have a better understanding of our fans, where they’re coming from, how they travel, when they decide how they’ll travel, and what will make them change their ways,” she says. “But you also have to have an option to offer – if you don’t have that, they’re unlikely to change their ways.”

As the industry looks towards a summer of sport, events both big and small can learn important lessons from the IBU’s approach – and the environmental impacts could be monumental.

BMW IBU WORLD CUP 16.12.2023 Massenstart Men 15 km Athlete: Sebastian Stalder. Photo: Stephan Boegli

BMW IBU WORLD CUP 16.12.2023 Massenstart Men 15 km Athlete: Sebastian Stalder. Photo: Stephan Boegli

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