Speeches - April 2005 - Presentation on UNEP's work as it relates to Sport and the Environment - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
United Nations Environment Programme
environment for development Search 
News Centre
 Home News Centre
 Media Contacts
 Press Releases
 In Focus
 RSS / Podcasts

 Printable Version [Français]

Presentation on UNEP's work as it relates to Sport and the Environment


Mr. Slama, President of the National Olympic Committee of Tunisia,

Mr. Chetali, Vice-president of the National Olympic Committee of Tunisia,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to be here today to talk about the work of the United Nations Environment Programme as it relates to sport and the environment.

Environmental sustainability is, of course, central to all the United Nations development goals, and the UN system has given sport a major role to play in its campaign to achieve these goals.

Thanks to the leadership of the Government of Tunisia, the UN General Assembly declared 2005 as the International Year for Sport and Physical Education to promote education, health, development and peace.

In the same session the General Assembly also reaffirmed the role of sport and the Olympic ideal in building a peaceful and better world.

On that note, UNEP is proud to have been involved with the International Olympic Committee and its Sport and Environment Commission since 1994.

It was our great pleasure to receive a visit from Mr. Jacques Rogge, President the International Olympic Committee, to UNEP headquarters earlier this year in January, where we were able to further cement our relationship and finalize some the details of the sixth World Conference on Sport and Environment, which UNEP will host in Nairobi in November.

At the last IOC World Conference on Sport and Environment, in Turin, Italy, in December 2003, 250 representatives from National Olympic Committees, international sports federations and associations agreed, through the ‘Torino Commitments on Sport and Environment’ to implement sustainable development activities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is little more than a decade since the Centennial Olympic Congress brought sport and the environment into focus, barely six years since the publication of the Olympic movement’s own Agenda 21, yet in that time the principles of environmental sustainability have become firmly embedded in the Olympic movement’s consciousness and planning.

During that time UNEP’s own sport and environment strategy has also matured and grown.

Our strategy recognizes two core facts.

First: sport is affected by the environment.

Environmental pollution affects the health of children throughout the world. For many it means they won’t even live past their fifth birthday. Millions of others have their intellectual and physical potential diminished by poor air quality, inadequate sanitation and preventable diseases.

Even in more privileged countries, such as the United States, environmental conditions can compromise sporting achievement. For example, the British medical journal, The Lancet, has revealed that in some communities in California where air quality is poor, the most athletic children are three times more likely to get asthma than their peers who do not exercise.

I could go on, but the brief message is this: healthy bodies and minds—the foundation and the objective of all sport—need a healthy environment.

The second fact, one that the Olympic Movement is increasingly recognizing and acting on, is that sport affects the environment.

I am sure all of you here are aware that the UN recently released the results of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. This four-year project concludes that human society is putting increasing pressure on the world’s important and irreplaceable ecosystems. In many cases the degradation is irreversible.

We all rely on these ecosystems. The air, the land, the world’s plants and animals, lakes, rivers and seas are ultimately all we have.

Our responsibility—as individuals and as organizations—must therefore be to “do no harm”.

This adage has guided physicians for centuries. It is important that we recognize that we, and only we, are responsible for the health of the planet.

Everything we do has an environmental impact. With forethought and consideration we can make sure our impact is positive.

That responsibility is enshrined in the Olympic Charter and underlies UNEP’s sport and environment strategy.

The purpose of the UNEP strategy is threefold. Its objectives are to:

• Promote the integration of environmental considerations in sports;

• Use the popularity of sports to promote environmental awareness and respect among the public, especially young people;

and to

• Promote the development of environmentally friendly sports facilities and the manufacture of environmentally friendly sporting goods.

I feel that we have made significant progress on all those fronts, thanks in large part to the enthusiastic involvement of our growing coalition of partners.

Integrating environmental considerations into sport

I have already mentioned our partnership with the IOC, through its Sport and Environment Commission and the World Conference on Sport and Environment.

We have also forged strong links with National Olympic Committees, for example with the Italian City of Torino, which will host the 2006 Winter Games.

Last year we worked closely with the Organizing Committee of the Athens Olympics, as well as with a number of non-governmental organizations in Greece who were concerned that the Games were conducted in an environmentally friendly manner.

Thanks to the Olympic Movement’s leadership, and especially the examples of Sydney and Lillehammer, I think it is fair to say that, nowadays, no major sporting event is planned without taking the environment into consideration.

Certainly, all the cities competing for the 2012 Games have featured the environment as a central part of their bid, and have shown strong interest in collaborating with UNEP.

It is notable that the bids of all five cities competing for the 2012 games detail their efforts to ensure that the Games will not only do no harm but will positively enhance the local environment.

Looking at the contenders from east to west, we see that Moscow states its full commitment to the principles of sustainable development, while the Paris 2012 bid has its own Agenda 21 and Charter for Environment and Sustainable Development.

With the promise that the Olympic Village and new venues will be “models of sustainable development”, Paris has committed to be a “showcase for environmentally friendly innovations”, including a pledge to conduct a climate-neutral Games with zero net greenhouse gas emissions and environmentally friendly approaches to water, air, waste management and heritage conservation.

London has embraced the concept of the ‘One Planet Olympics’ with the goal of achieving, in their own words, “the first sustainable Games” that respect ecological limits and cultural diversity, and create “a legacy for sport, the environment and the local and global community”.

The organizing committee proposes a Sustainability Management System, where “sustainability criteria” represent the “core values” of the Committee, underpinning policies, implementation, monitoring and reporting, and encompassing areas such as waste management, sustainable procurement, environment awareness-raising and active stakeholder engagement.

Madrid’s bid seizes on the opportunity presented by the Games to “make Madrid a more environmental and sustainable city”. It emphasizes environmental impact assessment, efficient use of resources, sustainable mobility, landscape recovery and new green areas, and promoting environmental education and commitment.

Finally, New York, too, is stressing its environmental credentials. Its bid emphasizes that the city is already an environmental leader and innovator, and promises to use the Games as a springboard to further expand parkland, reclaim brownfields, boost environmental awareness and showcase environmental innovation and best practices.

And it is not just the Olympics that has embraced environmentalism.

Germany, which is hosting the 2006 FIFA World Cup, is working to make that competition as eco-friendly as possible, strictly limiting its production of emissions and waste and its use of chemicals, energy and other resources.

It will monitor the chemicals used to treat pitches, limit packaging on products sold during matches, and insist on maximum recycling of rubbish.

UNEP and the FIFA 2006 World Cup Organizing Committee have a Memorandum of Understanding to promote environmental awareness and monitor environmental programmes.

Businesses will be required to conform to FIFA environmental guidelines, water supplies will be conserved, much of the energy will come from renewable resources, and park-and-ride schemes will limit traffic and pollution.

Such schemes have already demonstrated their worth.

For example, a study by the United States Centers for Disease Control showed that dramatic increases in public transportation during the Atlanta Olympic Games led to an improvement in urban air quality and a 42 per cent decrease in asthma-related emergency room visits by children.

Similarly, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games has been the impetus for an air quality campaign that has already seen a significant reduction in air pollution.

Beijing’s five-year pollution control plan for the Games includes developing public transport, controlling vehicle emissions and cracking down on polluting businesses.

These are practical examples of how sport and the sports industry can benefit the environment.

Using sport to promote environmental awareness

Sport also has tremendous potential to raise environmental awareness among the wider public, as well as to promote the wider ideals of education, health, development and peace, the theme of the International Year of Sport and Development.

I was thinking about this the other day when I saw an article on an Internet news site.

The headline read ‘Teacher Says Premier League Games Should Be X-Rated,.’

I love to watch football. So do my sons. But, as a father, I am acutely aware of the

negative messages being broadcast by the ugly faces of dissent I see on the TV.

I can’t hear the abuse being hurled at referees and their assistants but I know what’s being said.

How can I teach my children the principles of fair play when their heroes take every opportunity to cheat and to abuse authority?

Yet, only minutes after I read this headline, I found myself walking past a UN poster featuring Ronaldo, the Brazil and Real Madrid striker, promoting an anti-AIDS message.

Here, in a nutshell, are the two sides of sport, negative and positive.

The positive side of sport was also much in evidence last year at the Athens Olympics.

I was fortunate to have been invited to the spectacular opening ceremony. The power of that occasion, as the assembled countries of the world marched together under the Olympic banner to celebrate their unity, will stay with me forever.

I know of few things as powerful as sport for motivating and teaching the better aspects of life.

At UNEP, we are keen to harness this power to promote an environmental message.

For example, I recall how last year we were able to use the occasion of the African Cup of Nations (which I am sure some of you probably remember!) to promote UNEP’s sport and environment programme in the competition’s official magazine.

Among the featured items was information about UNEP’s Nature and Sport Camp in Kenya. The Sadili Oval sports camp gives children from slum settlements around Nairobi the chance to learn sports, offering them equipment and training that they would not normally have access to.

It also helps them to become environmentally conscious and responsible citizens.

To complement their sport, the children take part in a wide range of activities—such as drama, debating and dance—to build their confidence and help them discuss and look for solutions to the issues that directly affect them, such as the environmental problems of waste, sanitation and pollution, and other issues such has HIV/AIDS.

Through the project, children have become involved in cleaning up their environment, planting trees and recycling.

At the same time, levels of drug taking and truancy have decreased, and girls are staying in school and getting better results.

Their sporting results are also impressive: Twenty-six children have reached the national tennis leagues, and the Sadili Flames are the youngest team in the national basketball league.

The inspiration and model for the Nature and Sports Camps is the outstandingly successful Mathare Youth Sports Association.

As well as fielding one of the strongest teams in the Kenyan professional football league, and contributing a number of players to its national side, the association—known as MYSA—has 14,000 playing members in 1,008 teams.

These boys and girls come from one of the toughest and most underprivileged areas of Nairobi, and their example is truly inspiring.

To join, they have to coach younger kids or get involved in environmental clean-ups, work that earns them points in their football leagues.

UNEP has worked closely with MYSA since its establishment in 1987. In 1992, MYSA received the prestigious UNEP Global 500 award. Other Global 500 winners include Kenya’s 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai, and both the Lillehammer and the Sydney Olympic Organizing Committees.

We believe examples such as MYSA and the UNEP Nature and Sports Camps are excellent models for combining sport and sustainable development, especially for less privileged communities.

They not only provide leadership training and sporting opportunities, they also enable young people to do something concrete and long-lasting to benefit themselves and their communities.

Promoting environmentally friendly sports facilities and products.

UNEP’s partner in the Nature and Sport Camps programme is the Japan-based Global Sports Alliance.

This dynamic organization is also our partner for this year’s Sport Summit for the Environment, which will take place on July 30 and 31 at EXPO 2005 in Japan.

The Summit represents UNEP’s main contribution to the International Year of Sport and Physical Education.

It will bring together heads of international sports organizations, senior UN officials, and many sport and environment stakeholders to review the role of sport in promoting sustainable development.

A declaration of commitments to environmental protection will be issued by the participants at the end of the Summit.

Over the past five years UNEP and the Global Sports Alliance have also organized three Global Forums for Sport and Environment: twice in Tokyo, Japan, and, last year, in the cities of Lahore and Sialkot in Pakistan.

I have already mentioned the considerable success that organizations such as the IOC and FIFA have had in incorporating environmental sustainability into all aspects of the planning and construction of new or renovated sports facilities.

There is another area where I feel progress is rapidly being made, and that is with the sporting goods industry.

Throughout the world there is a growing consciousness of the importance of corporate social and environmental responsibility and transparency.

The 2004 Global Forum for Sport and Environment in Lahore was organized in cooperation with the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry and sports manufacturers in Pakistan. Two hundred and fifty participants from around the world discussed the impact and potential contribution of the sporting goods industry to the environment.

When one considers that sport-related turnover amounts to three per cent of total world economic activity, it is clear that the manner in which sports goods, clothing and equipment are manufactured and disposed of is significant indeed.

The main outcome of the 2004 Global Forum for Sport and Environment was the Lahore/Sialkot Declaration on Corporate Environmental Responsibility.

The Declaration adopted by the sporting goods industry in Sialkot—where 60 per cent of the soccer balls used around the world are made—recognizes the importance of including environmental sustainability in work principles, for instance by improving the use of water and energy and by raising environmental awareness among their workforce.

The signatories also pledge to include the environment as a key factor in non-financial reporting, to introduce cleaner technology and reduce the amount of toxic and chemical waste during production.

They also agree to sponsor and promote activities for children and youth that link good health, sport and environment.

Through the Global Forum, UNEP has also been able to forge a close working relationship with the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry. The Federation is promoting the issue of corporate environmental responsibility among its members worldwide and is working with UNEP on venues and agendas for future Forums.


This, then is a snapshot of the work of the United Nations Environment Programme as it relates to sport and the environment.

I encourage you to find out more by visiting our web site www.unep.org.

We also have a magazine for youth, called Tunza, which last year devoted an issue to sport and the environment, featuring the voices of sportsmen and women speaking out in defence of the environment and highlighting practical examples of how sports events, the sports industry and consumers can become more environmentally friendly.

As with all our products, Tunza is available in English, French and Spanish.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In so many ways, sport is about leadership. About setting examples that others will follow.

Examples of courage, self discipline and teamwork. Examples that can provide inspiration the world over.

UNEP firmly believes that the examples being set by organizations such as the IOC and FIFA, by the Global Sports Alliance and the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry—and by the courageous children of Nairobi’s slums—can have profound and long-lasting impact.

At UNEP our motto is Environment for Development.

We believe that by working together and harnessing the power of sport we can build a world where children will grow up with a clean and healthy environment, in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect, where everyone can lead productive lives with equal opportunities for work—and play.

Thank you.