THE SPOT 2023 promotes innovation in action for a sustainable future

May 11 2023

The global sports industry gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland this week for THE SPOT 2023, which saw two days of lively discussion and debate on how innovation in sport can help to build a sustainable future. More than six hundred delegates attended the fourth edition of ThinkSport’s international event, which was held at the SwissTech Convention Center on the 8th and 9th May.

THE SPOT 2023 promotes innovation in action for a sustainable future

THE SPOT is an important opportunity for sports stakeholders working in sport and innovation to network, share ideas, and build connections. Building on the event’s focus on ‘innovation in action for sustainable futures’, this year’s conference highlighted the challenges facing the industry around sustainability and focused on finding and celebrating solutions through cross-sector collaborations.

ThinkSport aims to promote partnerships, innovations, knowledge sharing, and creative thinking to drive progress in sport, not only in Lausanne but across Switzerland and the wider world. THE SPOT is its flagship event and attracts international attendees from across the worlds of business, sport, NGOs, academia, and startups.

Out-of-this-world partnership sets tone for event

Two days of insights began with a networking event at the Olympic Museum on Monday evening, where Charles Frémont, Innovation Hub Manager at UEFA, and Davide Coppola, Business Developer at the European Space Agency (ESA) shared their thoughts on the first-ever partnership between a space agency and a sports organisation, which was also announced this week. The partnership, signed as part of the UEFA Innovation Hub’s mission to work across industries, will enable UEFA to learn from ESA technology in areas including pitch mapping, crowd management, and sustainability. News of the partnership set the tone for the event to follow, providing a perfect example of how cross-sector technological collaboration can help the industry achieve sustainability goals.

The conference began in full the following day, centred around a programme of talks and panels with over 30 world-class speakers from a wide variety of sectors and industries. Attendees also had the opportunity to network and explore technology and solutions at the Marketplace, listen to one-minute product and service pitches during an Open Mic session, and take part in the final of the Sports for Nature Challenge.

Mindset and culture change

Andrea Traverso, President of ThinkSport, opened with remarks that highlighted the need to consider culture change, mindsets, and processes as well as technology to achieve true innovation.


Innovation is not just about innovating products, not just about tech, it’s about mindsets, changing culture, and processes. Andrea Traverso, President of ThinkSport

Building on this, Tom Waller, Senior Vice President of Innovation at Adidas, explored how companies and individuals can focus their attention and find their role, calling on the audience to “think big, act small, stay focused”. Responding to his question of whether “a sports company be the solution to the world’s needs”, he encouraged people to ask themselves three questions: “what does the world need most? What are you most qualified to do? What is humanly possible?”. He is also explored the idea that, while many people know what they should do for the best, very few do the right thing in practice. Calling on audiences to “unlock the SUPER in all humans”, he evoked the spirit of Katherine Switzer, the first woman to officially run the Boston marathon in 1967 despite race organisers’ efforts to prevent her competing. Waller compared her efforts to people trying to change perceptions and ideas in today’s world, fighting against traditionalists and people who resist change.

Lee McEwan, Head of Strategy and Planning at Publicis Sport and Entertainment, opened the next discussion on ‘Sustainability: A race against time’ by exploring sports that were allowed in the past but would no longer be acceptable, from jousting and hunting for animal trophies to the more recent example of the banning of Tough Mudder events for destroying the land. He argued that sport is increasingly being used to make public statements, highlighting the German football team’s protest during the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and touched on issues surrounding greenwashing, again highlighting the Qatar 2002 World Cup as well as the broad range of estimates for sport’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

McEwan also drew attention to the gap between the percentage of people who say sustainability is important to them and the percentage who are willing to take action, and explored ways of addressing the issue. According to McEwan, over 80% of people agree that “we are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly”, but less than 45% are prepared to pay more for sustainable products. “The real task,” he said, “is trying to get people to change, not just to think about it.”

Other speakers included Cory Burkhardt, Chief of NASA JSC HumanWorks Lab, who explored ‘the human as a sensor’ and how individuals can help to solve collective human problems, and a discussion between Kyle Israel, former quarterback and Director of Business Development at Tignum, and Mayi Cruz Blanco, Managing Director of Sports Practice & Partnerships at Adecco. The pair discussed trends, leadership, and skills for the future, and covered topics including sponsorship and partnerships and athlete movements and influence.

The final address came from John Tweardy, Managing Partner of Olympic, Paralympic and Major Events Practice at Deloitte. Tweardy addressed how sustainable transformation and technology are impacting the future of sport through the introduction of new formats, different types of fan engagement, changes in sports participation, and changing commercial and financial models, as well as an increased focus on governance and responsible sport, which has resulted in changes to leadership and organisational structures.

Challenge finale, launch of new initiative and return of the Fish Bowl

As well as talks and discussions, delegates had the opportunity to hear about solutions to promote and enhance biodiversity through sport at the final of the Sports for Nature Challenge, which was held in front of a gathered crowd.

The Sports for Nature Challenge is powered by Sails of Change and called on sports organisations, start ups, companies, non-profits, and institutions to submit ideas for campaigns, infrastructure, and technology that promote biodiversity. The Challenge attracted seventy applications from across the world, and ten solutions were chosen to present three-minute pitches at THE SPOT.

The three winners were We Play Green, for a player programme aimed at encouraging football players to mobilise to support the green shift; Red Knot Racing, for a sustainable infrastructure and sports tourism solution to biodiversity conservation on Mt. Kilimanjaro; and dimpora, for developing high-performant, PFA-free membranes for sports clothing. Judges included Dona Bertarelli, founder of Sails of Change, Marie Sallois Dembreville, Director of Corporate Development and Sustainability at the IOC, and Dr. Radhika Murti, Director of the Centre for Society and Governance at IUCN.

The day also saw the launch of a brand-new strategic partnership between ThinkSport and the Centre for Sport and Human Rights. Supported by the Swiss government, the partnership will address challenges and opportunities at the intersection of sport and human rights. Over the next two years, the organisations will work together to run a series of workshops to tackle complex issues and provide practical solutions.

THE SPOT is notorious for its Fish Bowl sessions, which this year were organised around four themes:

  • Mindset and future consumer behaviour
  • Human capital and the future success of sport
  • Innovation and best practices in sustainability
  • Sustainability & innovation – insights in times of uncertainty

The discussions were lively and featured a range of industry experts and athletes from across sectors, including Marie Owens Thomson, SVP Sustainability and Chief Economist for IATA, David Grevemberg, Chief Innovation and Partnerships Officer for the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, Lily Xu Lijia, Sailing Olympic gold medallist from China, and Kevin Martel, Manager of Games Knowledge and Data for Paris 2024.

THE SPOT has become a conference that is clearly focused on purpose. This years’ event created an environment for sports stakeholders to think about the future: where and how innovation can be used creatively and what challenges the industry is likely to face along the way. By bringing together a diverse range of organisations and actors THE SPOT encouraged collaboration, creativity, and connection, sparking ideas for the future of the sports industry and the planet.

Read moreBethany White

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