Feature

Inspiring the conversation around sustainability in sport: BBC Green Sport Awards

October 05 2023

The winners have been announced at the star-studded second annual BBC Green Sport Awards – and the significance of the event is set to grow.

Inspiring the conversation around sustainability in sport: BBC Green Sport Awards

With bushfires and flood warnings across numerous Australian towns in Victoria and New South Wales, it was fitting that national team cricket captain Pat Cummins was crowned Athlete of the Year at the BBC Green Sport Awards for his work on raising awareness on climate change. 

However, Cummins was just one of many winners during an event that has the potential to grow in significance and stature over the coming years.

The second annual BBC Green Sport Awards this week formed part of the UK public-service broadcaster’s commitment to a greener future in partnership with Sport Positive Summit. 

The ceremony was hosted at BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House, London and welcomed sporting heroes and keen sustainability advocates. The awards aim to celebrate individuals and organisations from across the globe that are using their sporting profile and platform to make and influence sustainable changes. 

There were five categories this year including: Athlete of the Year, Young Athlete of the Year, Evergreen Athlete 2023, Elite Organisation of the Year, and Grassroots Organisation of the Year. The Athlete of the Year award is given to a professional sportsperson who has advocated for, raised awareness of, or encouraged action around climate change over the past 12 months. The Young Athlete of the Year is for sportspeople aged 21 and under. 

The Evergreen Athlete gong is awarded to those that have demonstrated ongoing support for environmental issues across a number of years, while the Elite Organisation of the Year celebrates work from a high-performance sports organisation or sporting body. Grassroots Organisation of the Year is dedicated to amateur or non-professional sporting set-ups that highlight issues around climate change.

Building influence

Dave Lockwood, Editorial Sustainability Lead at BBC Sport, explained to Global Sustainable Sport that events such as the BBC Green Sport Awards take time to build and require the backing of the sports industry. 

“When we decided to go ahead with the awards, I think we always knew it would be something that might take time,” he said. “It would be something that might need investment, and when I say investment, I’m not talking about money necessarily; I’m talking investment from the wider sport community.”

The early signs, however, are promising – and the BBC’s expertise in hosting such events is well-established, with its Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) Awards dating back to 1954.

“SPOTY is obviously a flagship for the BBC, and there was a conversation with them about whether we needed the awards or if the awards could be included in SPOTY,” Lockwood added. “I think if we had had a sustainability award in SPOTY, the fear might have been that it wouldn’t have got the coverage.”

 

"I'm hugely honoured to accept the BBC's Green Sport Award for Athlete of the Year. I'm really proud of what we've been able to achieve here in Australia and hopefully we have more to come. I feel like there is hope, because there are a lot of solutions to move away from fossil fuels, or moving towards more renewable sources. To be able to show that we've made a small difference, we've made some good actions. That makes me really proud." Pat Cummins Australia men's Test and ODI captain

Athlete of the Year

This past week in Australia, the Gippsland region of Victoria and New South Wales’ South Coast have witnessed bushfires and flood warnings.

Last month, a former fire brigade chief warned that a warm spring in the country was creating the perfect combination of conditions for bushfires – reminiscent of the 2019 Black Summer in Australia that saw some 24 million hectares torched.

It is more prominent then, that with his home suffering from the effects of climate change, that the work of Australian captain Cummins – who himself hails from New South Wales – should be celebrated.

Cummins has supported a number of initiatives dedicated to driving change and has led the discussion around sustainability within cricket and more widely across Australia. He also founded the Cricket for Climate foundation and hosted the inaugural Cricket for Climate Impact Summit last year.

Elsewhere, Cummins’ work has seen the Australian captain help to install solar systems across four local cricket clubs and back the launch of the South Australian Cricket Association Sustainability Roadmap.

While Cummins was not in attendance, with Australia currently in India for the Cricket World Cup, he said: “I feel like there is hope, because there is a lot of solutions to move away from fossil fuels or moving towards more renewable sources. To be able show that we’ve made a small difference, we’ve made some good actions, it’s not just about words, that makes me really proud.”

Young Athlete of the Year

Cross-country runner Innes FitzGerald was awarded Young Athlete of the Year after raising awareness of climate-related issues surrounding athletics. 

The young athlete, who hails from Devon in the UK, made the headlines earlier this year after declining to take part in the World Cross Country Championships in Australia, due to the long-distance flight and the impact on the environment. 

At the time, FitzGerald told the BBC that she could not justify flying to Australia and wrote to British Athletics to say that travelling filled her “with deep concern”. 

FitzGerald revealed to Global Sustainable Sport that her widely reported stance against flying to the world championships was not the first time the young athlete had refused to fly long distance. She also chose to opt out of the European Championships prior to the world event, as the competition was being held in Jerusalem that year. 

“I wasn’t expecting it at all, but I think that it was really good that it was picked up on,” the 17-year-old said in relation to the coverage her decision generated. “I’ve been thrust into it quite quickly, but I’m actually grateful that this has happened. It gets more and more people talking about it [sustainability]. Having the media pick it up means that there is a much wider audience.”

 

Evergreen Athlete

Former Major League Baseball (MLB) player Chris Dickerson was recognised for his work on raising awareness of the climate crisis and plastic pollution.

Dickerson played for teams such as the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians. His work on climate change dates back all the way to 2008, when he began his career in MLB.

He founded the Players for the Planet foundation that year alongside fellow former baseball player Jack Cassel. The foundation has gone on to implement numerous initiatives to impact the environment in a positive manner, such as beach clean-ups and recycling at sports stadiums.

The foundation works alongside professional athletes, sports teams and organisations to be more environmentally positive through actionable opportunities, and supports the professional sports industry in becoming a leading example of being ecologically conscious.

To date, more than 200 current and former professional athletes have joined the Players for the Planet platform, with numerous organisations donating money to help fund beach clean-ups.

This regular season, which has just ended, saw the Milwaukee Brewers and manufacturer SC Johnson, alongside players Brent Suter, Corey Knebel and Keaton Hiura, team up to donate money for each save recorded by the side.

This money is set to be used to fund a programme that will see Players for the Planet host 12 beach clean-ups with local MLB youth development initiatives in the Dominican Republic. It is hoped that the clean-ups will result in the collection and recycling of 3,000 pounds of ocean-bound plastic, while engaging more than 1,500 young people on ocean conservation.

Elite Organisation of the Year 

In a year in which Forest Green Rovers (FGR) broke ground on its new wooden stadium in Gloucestershire, the English Football League 2 club was recognised for its ongoing sustainability efforts. 

The new stadium will be based in a wider development called ‘Eco Park’ that will also feature indoor and outdoor pitches, a new training centre, a 1,700-space car park, hotel and a 70-bed care home. To promote biodiversity, roughly 500 trees and 1.8km of hedgerows will be planted. 

Dale Vince, the owner of British energy company Ecotricity, purchased a majority stake in the club in 2010 with a goal of taking the team up the football ladder and making it more sustainable. 

Forest Green’s current stadium, the New Lawn in Nailsworth, is powered by solar panels on the roof of the stands and a solar array to make up a portion of the club’s power needs, with 100% green energy from Ecotricity making up the rest.

Vince spoke with Global Sustainable Sport, and praised the platform provided by the BBC through the Green Sport Awards, upon which discussions around the environment can take place. 

“The BBC is an impactful organisation with a lot of credibility around the world and not just here in Britain. So, it’s a bit different to other awards,” he said.

“What they are trying to do is shine a spotlight on the whole issue of sustainability and what sport can do about that. And I understand that, as that’s what we are trying to do… it’s about engaging the world of sport, reaching through the organising bodies to the billions of sports fans and making them fans of the environment. The BBC gives more exposure to what it is we’ve done, which gives us the chance to communicate more.”

He added: “I always love having the opportunity to speak about what we do and about sustainability, and awards have a role to play in that, because it sets up a competition which is needed in sport as sport is a competition. If one football club sees another football club winning something, they might think ‘oh we need to our bit’.”

In 2015, Forest Green became the world’s first vegan football club, and this season, Rovers are utilising reusable cups and chip trays to tackle plastic waste from catering and hospitality offerings. Only vegan food and drink is available to purchase by fans and even cleaning products are made on-site to further reduce waste. 

The United Nations has recognised Forest Green as the first carbon-neutral football club in the world as part of the UN Climate Neutral Now pledge. The club has also measured its carbon footprint for over decade and its operation is certified to the international environmental standard, ISO 1400.

“We’ve been going for 13 years as a sustainable football club,” continues Vince. 

“And back then, all the other football clubs that we met when we played them were dismissive. We meet them now, and they want to talk about what they’re doing – car chargers, solar panels, and they want to talk about food and how they can make the changes that we’ve made. So, we’ve gone from being a total outlier to being surrounded by football clubs that now acknowledge they need to do something, and a lot of them are doing something, which is really fantastic. I think the world is moving this way as well, and we’ve shown that it can be done in football.”

Grassroots Organisation of the Year 

Environmental issues are felt globally, and this can encompass anything from climate change to social and economic problems, and the protection of animals and plants. 

The BBC’s awards not only recognised many that are aiming to raise awareness around climate change, but also those working hard to limit the impact of illegal poaching on wildlife and drive conservation efforts. 

This year’s BBC Green Sport Awards presented the Rhino Cup Champions League with the Grassroots Organisation of the Year accolade, for its dedication to protecting wildlife. The Rhino Cup Champions League from the Wild and Free Foundation was founded in Mozambique in 2016, and is an amateur football league for young men and women in rural African communities surrounding park and wildlife reserves. 

The organisation has used the power of football to forge a connection between the youth in these communities and the protection of rhinos, in a bid to boost wildlife conservation and provide social and economic benefits.

 

Highlighting the need for urgent action

In its second year, the BBC Sport Green Awards, in partnership with the Sport Positive Summit, has provided a space in which discourse can flow surrounding sport’s role in tackling environmental issues.

It not only recognises the work of individuals and organisations, but also provides inspiration for others to step up with their own environmental efforts – and with momentum behind the movement, the influence and significance of the awards are only likely to grow.

Lord Coe accepted the Athlete of the Year award on Cummins’ behalf. When invited to give his thoughts on the awards by event host Qasa Alom, Lord Coe emphasised the importance of the BBC’s role in recognising the great work being done across the sports industry. He also said that the awards highlighted the urgent need for governments worldwide – and in particular, in the United Kingdom – to address climate change and the global impact it is having on sport and the planet.

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