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Mass participation event organisers must refocus sustainability efforts, experts warn

December 03 2022

The mass participation sports event industry must embed sustainability within organisations and establish a broader framework spanning economic, social and governance issues, rather than just the environment, according to expert speakers at a leading conference last week.

Mass participation event organisers must refocus sustainability efforts, experts warn

Delegates attending the World Athletics Global Running Conference, which incorporated the seventh edition of Mass Participation World’s (MPW) annual gathering, heard how a narrow focus on sustainability is stifling progress.

Chris Robb, CEO of MPW, summarised the point by saying: “At this crucial stage of development of the mass-participation industry, sustainability at every level is an important focus for all race organisers.

“Up until now there has been limited focus on sustainability and typically only on environmental outcomes. There is an enormous need to focus on all elements of sustainability to create a more viable future for the mass participation industry.”

Major issues

The three-day conference, which took place in Bangkok ahead of the Amazing Thailand Marathon, brought together race organisers and service providers from across the world. On the agenda were discussions about some of the major issues facing the mass participation industry, which is still trying to recover after the impact of Covid-19.

During an interview moderated by Nevena Vukašinović  from the Green Sports Hub Europe, Professor Vassil Girginov of Brunel University in London spoke about the need for the sector to adopt a new approach, with sustainability at the core of organisations. Girginov added that race organisers should contextualise the individual challenges they face into two key questions:

·      What is it that we need to do to create a sustainable future?
·      What do we need to develop to survive?

Girginov noted that many race organisers are facing a multitude of new challenges and need to adapt to survive and to make some significant adjustments. Areas of improvement should include data gathering, and understanding broader sustainability concepts surrounding social, economic and governance issues.

He also said that consolidation was needed in the industry, rather than a proliferation of new mass participation events, to secure a viable future. Growth should come from existing events that can deliver real social outcomes, he added.

During the interview Professor Girginov asked the conference delegates how many of them had adopted the industry standard ISO 20121 certification process for events. Virtually none had done so, with one race organiser citing the cost and complexity involved.

Urgent need

When asked by Vukašinović  how many of them considered sustainability to be a big issue, almost all of the audience members confirmed such a belief. However, they agreed that there remains an urgent need to do more in this space.

One of World Athletics’ Label Road Race organisers felt that the global governing body should provide better guidelines and more standards around sustainability. In response, Alessio Punzi, Head of Running and Mass Participation at World Athletics, advised that a new standard would be piloted in 2023 before becoming mandatory in 2024.

Mike Nishi, Chief Operating Officer at Chicago Marathon, commented on the fact that his event followed a set of guidelines provided by the Council for Responsible Sport, which is adopted by many race organisers in the USA.

He stated that the marathon had a strong focus on social integration and cohesion within the community to support the city of Chicago in achieving some of its social targets. This was an issue raised earlier by MPW chief executive Robb, who felt that cities and mass participation events were often competing for resources and not working in partnership to improve social outcomes.

Professor Girginov concluded by saying that there was an urgent need for integrity in reporting the outcomes of mass participation events so that cities and governments can understand the broader benefits that these events bring to society. This approach can help to achieve better outcomes with a more focused outlook and, above all, a better sustainable business model.

Running Events: Policies, Marketing and Impacts – 1st Edition – Kostas (routledge.com)

Professor Girginov recently published a book that critically examines the relationship between running events in local, national, and international welfare policy, their marketing and management, and the resulting social impacts. For further information click here.

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    MPW Conference - Day 3 - 3rd December 2022Mike Laflin