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Summer of sport: 5 key ways to engage fans and athletes with sustainability

July 24 2023 - News Release News Editorial

Headlines in recent weeks have been dominated by sporting results, from the Ashes to Wimbledon. How can we get fans and sports stars to care just as much about the environment – especially amid a season of extreme weather?

Summer of sport: 5 key ways to engage fans and athletes with sustainability

That was one of the key questions on the agenda as SailGP hosted its annual ‘Champions for Change’ discussions in London last week. The gathering brought together athletes, broadcasters, tournament directors and sustainability professionals, in a bid to spark ideas and action for a more inclusive and sustainable global sports landscape.

Here are five top tips that the speakers had about embedding sustainability into sports-related communications, which could help to mobilise an influential global community in building a sustainable future.

1) Encourage friendly competition

Competition is the crux of any sporting event, for the athletes and the fans alike. So, why shouldn’t leagues and championships crown a sustainability champion as well as handing out their usual medals or trophies?

SailGP has been hosting an ‘Impact League’ since Season 2. The league enables teams to rack up points for operating sustainably and for going above and beyond with extra initiatives that benefit nature, climate and social inclusion. Experts on topics like clean energy, plastic pollution and women in sport help SailGP to co-judge the league, as do independent adjudicators.

At the end of the season, one team gets to take the Impact League trophy. They may or may not be the winning team for the season itself.

“Teams are just as keen to get their hands on the Impact League trophy as the regular trophy,” SailGP’s director of purpose and impact Fiona Morgan says, recounting how one of the winners from Denmark insisted on cuddling the trophy (pictured) for good luck.

Teams are now encouraging SailGP to make collecting Impact League points more of a challenge, Morgan added, as they a) want to have a greater positive impact on communities and nature, and b) want the competition to be even fiercer.

This gamified approach has also proven popular with fans in other, separate campaigns. Hubbub’s voting bins saw a battle for the title of world’s best footballer being voted on with cigarette buts and drinks cans. And Fair Game produces an index ranking the most sustainable Premier League clubs as do a handful of other UK organisations including Sky and the BBC.

2) Don’t take community connections for granted

As much as sport is about competition, it is also about community. Fans relish the chance to come together in support of something bigger than themselves.

This, Sky Sports presenter David Garrido explains, was a key reason why the broadcaster’s ‘Green Football Weekend’ in February (pictured) was such a success. The campaign saw more than 80 football clubs taking action on climate change, encouraging their players and fans to join in.

Likewise, Sky Sports and other broadcasters shone a spotlight on environmental topics during downtime. There were dedicated game-show-like challenges and interviews galore. Fans were also given tips to save money by improving energy and water efficiency. Sky’s new ‘Sports Summer of Sustainability’ campaign will offer more of the same sorts of content, but for cricket fans.

This creates an environment in which open discussions about environmental topics are encouraged among fan bases which may otherwise shy away from the subject.

But we all know that discussions need to be converted into action. The panel emphasised the importance of making more sustainable options – like walking, cycling, public transport, reusable cups and lower-carbon menu choices – the norm for fans. Most of them will want as convenient and affordable a game-day experience as possible. This requires collaborations between broadcasters, clubs, councils and key suppliers.

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