The path to environmental sustainability might ultimately require less international travel for competition – but that should be offset by greater international coordination, cooperation and collegiality from the global sport and recreation community.
That was the message from Sport England chief executive Tim Hollingsworth, who provided an international perspective at Sport NZ’s climate-focussed Connections 2023 conference.
“Sport England, just like every sporting organisation, recognises the central fact now that climate change and sustainability is the major issue facing the sporting sector,” Hollingsworth said.
“It’s not a case of Sport England or England giving advice because we are all facing the same issues.
“We have got shared issues and shared challenges. Let’s talk about them. We need to work together as much as possible.”
While Sport England’s remit does not extend to international sport, there was no doubt the future of international competition loomed large as an issue for a sector faced with the necessity of lowering the emissions caused by its activities.
“Sport has got this major challenge that international competition requires international travel,” said Hollingsworth. “It is a great example where no one organisation and no one country has got the answer. So, we need to talk. We need to talk as competitive nations about how we can restructure competition.”
The future of sporting venues – and how people accessed them – was another key issue that must be addressed for sustainability to be achieved.
In England, three out of five journeys undertaken by adults to either play or watch sport are made in the car. Of those, a quarter take less than 15 minutes.
“We’ve got a job to do to think about that in terms of the environmental sustainability agenda – not only through our own emissions, but thinking about what we might be responsible for through the places that people play and the audiences and crowds that come together,” says Hollingsworth.
“[Sport England] has a lot more focus now on places and spaces and what we can do to reduce emissions.
“How can you build in the opportunity for people to get there on foot or on a bike? Active travel is going to be central to the solution here.
“The important thing is we plan with a different lens, we don’t just plan for what we have always done.”
While England had seen a significant rise in active transport due to creation of safer routes, the likes of Denmark and Holland were the international benchmark, Hollingsworth said.
“If you go to Holland, it is not unusual to see more bikes parked than cars [at stadiums]. That’s because they’ve built that into their infrastructure. It’s possible and easy to safely travel by bike to go to an event.”
Environmental sustainability needed to be top of mind for all major sporting and recreational organisations, insisted Hollingsworth.
“It is making sure it is on the agenda for boards and chief executives and really central to the organisations because that hasn’t always been the case.
“We need to be talking about this, we need to be advocating for this, we need to be showing up as organisations and as a sector that knows how imperative this is.
“And as an industry we need to think about the leadership role we can play in setting out a vision for the future and attracting the young people into our industry who might not otherwise want to come.”
Questioning the environmental impact of the sector’s activities was a not an easy path to travel – however it had to be done, Hollingsworth said.
“It will always be a difficult question to ask – but if we don’t address it, we will never actually make the changes that are needed.
“Ultimately, let’s learn from each other in terms of what works.”
Hear more in the full presentation video >