For Kiwi sport and recreation organisations already reeling from the impact of severe weather events, being asked to step up and play their part to reduce global warming will likely be a daunting prospect.
Emma Pocock, the founder and chief executive of Australian climate advocacy group Frontrunners, had some helpful advice for sector leaders at Sport New Zealand’s Connections 2023 conference who find themselves in that exact position: start simple.
The first – vital – step was to get buy-in for climate action from the key figures within an organisation.
“Just getting a run on the board can be enough to get that buy-in that you need,” said Pocock who works alongside her partner, former Wallaby Captain, and now Senator for the ACT, David Pocock, on various projects and building a public profile for good through sport.
“What we find is that often actually taking some of those early steps on climate are financially beneficial in the medium and long term. A local cricket club, for example, adding solar to their facilities and having batteries could actually save them a lot of money once you do the projections over the medium and long term.”
Born from the smouldering embers of Australia’s 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires, Frontrunners provides support and guidance for athletes and sporting organisations seeking to play their part in tackling climate change.
In response to the bushfires, Frontrunners launched its The Cool Down campaign asking athletes to sign an open letter calling for climate action. It was hoping for 50 signatures – but would have settled for a couple of dozen.
However, as Canberra suffered through two months of the worst air quality on the planet – forcing its sports teams such as the Raiders and Brumbies to relocate for pre-season training and the cancellation of Big Bash cricket matches – Australia’s sports stars backed the campaign in their droves, with over 450 having now signed up.
Beyond the obscured lines of the playing fields, the bushfires that created an eerie orange glow in the skies as far away as Auckland, caused a rise in death and illness from respiratory problems across New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
“We all know what climate breakdown looks like, we know what it feels like,” Pocock said.
“We had so many athletes getting in touch saying ‘this seems pretty bad – what should we be doing about it’?
“We had this amazing opportunity to take all of that energy, all of that curiosity, and that real desire from athletes to be doing something and turn it into an organisation that now supports athletes and sporting organisations to tackle the climate crisis.
“But this shouldn’t be the preserve of courageous athletes. This is one of the single greatest challenges of our time. And it is a challenge that makes sense for sport to take on. Athletes want it. Fans want it. There are legitimate risks to sport in failing to address it. The scales have well and truly switched to the side of action.
“A key barrier to athlete advocacy is that many sports organisations don’t know how to tackle this issue. They don’t understand why they should, or they can’t get support from those who govern their sport or their club.”
Frontrunners suggests a five-point action plan for sporting organisations to begin tackling climate change:
“We have a long, long way to go on climate and the stakes couldn’t be higher,” Pocock said.
“The 2022 [Inter-governmental panel on Climate Change] report was pretty clear across the board that we are walking when we should be sprinting. That is true of sport. But we are seeing that change pretty rapidly.
“We have historically talked about climate as something that is going to affect future generations. We don’t really think about how it touches our lives – even in the midst of a natural disaster that is being fuelled by climate change.”
That mindset changes, though, when climate impacts start to affect the things we hold dear, Pocock said.
“And in New Zealand and Australia, sport is pretty high up there in terms of things that we love.”
Hear more in the full presentation video >