Press Releases - November 2003 - Sports Men and Women Call for Action on Air Pollution and Urge More Eco-Friendly Sports Equipment - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Sports Men and Women Call for Action on Air Pollution and Urge More Eco-Friendly Sports Equipment

Tokyo/Nairobi, 13 November 2003 - Smogs, more intense sunlight and declining ski conditions are among the growing environmental changes worrying sport men and women, according to an international survey.

Close to a third of those questioned said they were being forced to alter the way they conduct their sporting activities as a result of environmental concerns.

Many are resorting to the use of higher factor sun creams and wearing long sleeve shirts to counter what they claim is a higher risk of sunburn.

Others are leaving inner city sports grounds for the cleaner air of the countryside to avoid the impact of smogs and other forms of pollution.

Worries about chemicals in food and their health impacts are also high on the list of concerns. A significant number of those polled said they were turning to “natural, organic, foods whenever possible”.

These are just some of the findings from a sport and environment survey conducted by the Global Sports Alliance, an international organization supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The findings will be discussed at the Global Forum for Sport and the Environment 2003 (G-ForSE), which opens at the ANA Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, tomorrow.

Environmental experts and key figures in sports federations including Ruben Acosta, President of the International Volleyball Federation, are taking an active part in charting a greener future for the sporting world. Leading sports men and women including Greg LeMond, the cyclist and three time Tour De France winner and sports coaches like Shigeo Nagashima, Japan’s National Baseball Coach, also stepped forward to act as judges in selecting the G-ForSE 2003 Environmental Prizewinners.

Vital Messages, a ground breaking 64 page book featuring some of the world’s leading athletes and sports people including tennis sensation Monica Seles, Japanese footballer Hidetoshi Nakata and New York Yankees baseball star Hideki Matsui, will also be unveiled before going on sale in Japan.

The joint UNEP/GSA book, designed to fit into an athletes bag and featuring images from UNEP’s Focus On Your World photo competition, carries quotes from the celebrity sports stars.

Shaun White, ranked the world’s number 1 snowboarder, says: “ If global warming turns the mountains to summer, where am I supposed to snowboard?”

Referring to the way climate change is making weather conditions more extreme and violent Ryu Nakamura, a leading Japanese surfer, says: Global warming is changing the face of the sea. I just want to ride a natural wave”.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “ Sport and the environment are inextricably linked. Pollution of the air, the land and waterways can have an impact on the enjoyment and performance of amateur and professional athletes alike. Smogs, the result of traffic and other fumes can make it harder to breathe, which is especially damaging for people like asthmatics. Chemicals used in and around play areas may also carry risks. Contaminated coasts and freshwaters may cause ill health for sports people such as surfers and water sports enthusiasts.”

“Sports can affect the environment in other ways. Some, such as artificial ice-skating rinks and ice-hockey stadia or flood lit golf ranges and tennis courts, can be energy intensive triggering emissions of the gases linked with global warming,” he said.

“Other the other hand, well-managed sporting venues can also provide vital ‘green spaces’ in cities and towns bringing people closer to nature and acting as important refuges for birds, insects, plants and other wildlife,” said Mr Toepfer.

The survey, which involved almost 4,000 people aged mainly between 10 and 29 years-old, questioned men and women for whom sports is a passionate hobby. It also involved some professional players, coaches, sports manufacturers, operators of sports facilities and sports associations.

While most respondents came from Japan, there were also responses from Europe, North America and Africa.


The top ten sporting activities are football/soccer; baseball; basketball; tennis; volleyball; swimming; badminton; track and field; table tennis and skiing.

Just over 30 percent of those questioned said they were aware of the links between sports and the environment with a quarter saying that the environments in which they played and worked out were “unacceptable”.

Just under a quarter also said that they had noticed that their sporting activities were being affected by environmental impacts with photochemical smogs, pollution caused by fumes on hot sunny days, cited as one of the key problems.

Other issues included the declining quality of snow and a shortening of the ski season which some scientists are linking with global warming.

Some also cited increased sunburn as a result of stronger levels of ultraviolet light which may be linked with a thinning of the stratospheric ozone layer.

Just under 30 percent said they had changed their sporting routines in response to changes in the environment. Apart from using stronger sunblock, wearing long sleeve clothes and seeking less polluted “natural environments”, some respondents claimed they had given up activities such as golf.

Nearly 80 percent of those questioned said they had never heard of Agenda 21, the agreement reached at the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 aimed at delivering sustainable development internationally, nationally and locally.

Nevertheless, it was clear that the majority of those polled were keen to see the sporting environment “greened” with over 85 percent saying they preferred facilities, stadia and pitches that were “natural”.

Tatsuo Okada, Executive Director of the Global Sports Alliance, said: “ By natural, the respondents are referring to sites where there are more trees, grasses and other natural features. It is not just about aesthetics. Sports men and women are becoming increasingly aware of the ‘heat sink’ effect where man-made materials such as concrete and Tarmac tend to absorb heat which can make playing games and sporting activities on hot sunny days more uncomfortable and less pleasurable”.

Those questioned also said they were willing to act in a more environmentally friendly way to protect their sporting environment with popular measures including using public transport, rather than driving, when attending an event to taking rubbish home.

The survey also asked questions about how sports equipment can be made more eco-friendly. Most of those asked, 69 percent, said they wanted their equipment to be more durable and were prepared to pay more for this.

Mr Okada said: “ What they are saying is that equipment which lasts longer is inherently more environmentally-friendly. It makes sense. Manufacturing equipment uses natural resources and energy, so the longer the ball, the boot or the ski lasts, the less materials are used in making new ones. It also would lead to less waste”.

Other suggestions include making sports equipment biodegradable and manufacturing equipment whose materials can easily be separated and recycled at the end of their life.

Notes to Editors G-forSE ( is part of a growing series of activities and events being organized by or in collaboration with UNEP in the context of a sport and the environment strategy adopted by its Governing Council in February 2003.

Next month in the Italian city Torino which will host the 2006 Winter Olympics, UNEP will be the co-sponsor of the World Conference on Sport and the Environment organized by the International Olympic Committee. Issues include the role of top athletes as ambassadors for the environment to organizing and delivering environmentally-friendly sports events.

For More Information Please Contact Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, E-mail: or Jason Chare at the Global Sports Alliance on Tel: 81 3 6419 2900, E-mail: