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Sport and Environmental Awareness - Where do we go from here?

‘Sport, Peace and Environment'

Presentation By Theodore Oben

Head, UNEP Sport and Environment Unit at the VI World Conference on Sport and Environment

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have heard a number of presentations in the past two days about the link between sport, peace and the environment.

I do not want to burden you with going over well-trodden ground.

Instead I would like to talk a little about the challenges we need to face:

•  to further incorporate environmental sustainability into sport, and

•  to use the influence of sport to enhance environmental awareness, not just among the sports community, but the public at large.


We have seen how environmental awareness is becoming a central concern for organizers of major events, such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.

The reason is that we understand more and more about the size of the environmental footprint that such events have.

For example, some estimates indicate that the 2004 Athens Olympic Games generated half a million tonnes of greenhouse gases on top of what would normally have been generated.

This is 25 per cent more than a city the size of Munich would generate in a two week period.

The emissions estimate for 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany is 250,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from within Germany . This includes international flights, and also factors in energy efficiency and carbon offset schemes that are being put in place.

That's half of the Athens total, but still a significant addition to the environmental bill.

Let me give you another World Cup example: each event at a Bundesliga stadium will use approximately 10,000 to 20,000 cubic metres of water. That's as much as eight Olympic size swimming pools.

Each game will also use between 2 and 3 million kilowatt hours of energy. That's the annual consumption of between 500 and 700 households in Europe .

It is also estimated that each match will generate 5 to 10 tonnes of waste, as much as would be thrown away in one day by between 350 and 650 households.

The bottom-line is that sport has an ecological footprint that requires all stakeholders to think about ways of reducing the impacts.

Fortunately, examples such as the presentations we heard yesterday from the organizing committees of the Torino , Beijing , Vancouver and London Games also show how, with some forethought and commitment, we can shrink that footprint.

One area where I think we can and must make an impact is on global warming. It is the greatest threat we face, and must be foremost in our minds when we plan our events and, for that matter, our personal lives.

I would like to highlight the Heritage Climate Torino (HECTOR) project to reduce and offset carbon emissions. Another noteworthy scheme is Vancouver 's hydrogen highway.

In themselves these schemes are certainly not negligible, but when you factor in the legacy they will leave, the snowball effect that they could generate, then one begins to appreciate their real significance.

I think the question we can ask ourselves here today is how can we spread those examples even further throughout the world of sport?

This question, of course, lies at the heart of UNEP's sport and environment strategy.


UNEP has worked on sport and the environment since 1994.

We have published a range of printed and online material to highlight the links between sport and the environment.

For example, in your conference bags you all have a copy of David Chernushenko's Sustainable Sport Management.

On that note, let me congratulate the International Olympic Committee for their wonderful new Guide on Sport, Environment and Sustainable Development.

Together these two works provide a wealth of practical guidance for incorporating environmental awareness and sensitivity into sports.

Of course, promoting awareness goes much beyond providing information. It needs active partnerships.

UNEP has developed partnerships with several sports organizations, most notably, of course, the IOC.

I am also proud of the collaboration we are forging with FIFA, with whom we are working on the Green Goal initiative for the 2006 World Cup.

As part of our partnership approach UNEP also helps to organize conferences and events that engage key stakeholders from the world of sport in environmental issues.

This conference is one example. We also have close links with the sporting goods industry, with whom we organize the bi-annual Global Forum for Sports and Environment.

This year we also organized a Sports Summit for the Environment as part of Expo 2005 in Japan .

I mention these activities not to blow our own trumpet, but to emphasize two things that I think contribute to answering the two challenges I laid out at the start of my presentation.

Events such as these, and this weeks Conference, are an excellent way of engaging and recruiting stakeholders.

They also generate considerable publicity. Publicity is the oxygen that the environmental movement needs. To get the message across we need the media on our side.

To a large extent we have been successful. The environment is constant front page news.

The link between environment, development and peace is being well made and is being increasingly understood and accepted by people and their governments.

So, to a degree, is the link between environment and sport. There is certainly an appetite for such stories among the media that I am sure we can feed.

For example, two years ago we issued a media release publicizing a report explaining the impact of climate change on winter sports. It received intense global coverage, and is still being cited today.

However, I am convinced that, in terms of the world of sport, we can still do much more, both to increase awareness about environmental issues among recreational and professional sportspeople, and to harness the power and popularity of sport to promote the ideals of sustainable living to the broader public.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Our audience is the largest and potentially most powerful in the world.

Sport reaches everywhere. It reaches everyone.

Let me give just a few examples:

Last season the English Premier League attracted a global audience of 570 million people from 162 countries on television. Attendance at league matches was 16.4 million people.

In the Bundesliga, the German top league, an average of 40,000 people attend each match. There are more than 250 matches in a season. When you add the number of people who watch the Bundesliga on television, the number rises astronomically.

Then there is the FIFA World Cup . Estimates indicate that the 2006 World Cup in Germany will attract approximately 3.2 million spectators to the stadiums, and a worldwide television audience of over 3 billion. Finally, the Olympic Games . The worldwide television audience for the 2004 Athens Olympics was 3.9 billion people, an increase from 3.6 billion at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. These figures are expected to increase in Beijing 2008, and at each proceeding Olympics.

The reason these events are so popular is the media. They cover the games, the stories and the personalities. They generate the global interest.

Let me give you an interesting statistic. The Torino Olympic Winter Games in 2006 expects four times more media representatives than athletes—10,000 journalists for 2,500 athletes.

All these journalists are looking for stories.


Sport provides drama. Perfect food for the media.

It also generates plenty of human interest stories.

We have with us this week household names such as Frankie Fredericks and Tegla Loroupe.

I would be interested to see their press clippings. I wonder just how many column inches they have generated, how many TV interviews they have done.

Stars like Frankie and Tegla generate such publicity not just because of their athletic achievements, but because of who they are.

People want to know about the challenges they have overcome, and the principles they believe in. These are people of stature.

The popularity of sports stars is truly impressive. So is their potential influence, especially on the young.

Sports personalities are admired. The are role models for young people throughout the world.

Sport personalities are also seen as being more trustworthy than politicians, for instance.

We need to make a special effort to bring them on board, to use them as spokesmen and women, as ambassadors for sustainable living.

This, of course, is not a new idea.

Major companies such as Adidas, Nike and Coca Cola use sports personalities to promote their products, and the causes that they have embraced.

For example, Nike is working with Thierry Henry on the ‘Stand Up Speak Up Campaign' on football and racism.

This campaign is working to eradicate racism in football. The characteristic black and white wrist bands are now being worn by many sports stars and ordinary people around the world.

If such a campaign was used in relation to the environment then the possibilities for environmental awareness and action could be endless.


How about devising a Green Band scheme?

Let me give you another example.

The UN World Food Programme is blessed to have Kenya 's marathon world record holder Paul Tergat as an ambassador against hunger.

The reason he works with WFP is because they helped him as a schoolchild, and continue to contribute to feeding children in his home area.

Paul comes from an extremely dry area of Kenya 's Rift Valley that is not only blighted by poverty and hunger, but is suffering from environmental degradation.

There is a direct link between environmental degradation, poverty and hunger in Paul's birthplace and many other areas.

It is a point that we will be making strongly between now and World Environment Day on 5 June as we highlight the theme of deserts and desertification.

It is point that we need to be making with the help of people such as Paul.

We know from experience that sports stars are willing to lend their authority to good causes.

The Brazilian footballer Ronaldo, for instance, is working to highlight AIDS issues.

But considering the close link between sport and environment, I am sure we can do more, not only in creating awareness among athletes and sportsmen and women about the environmental footprint of their sports, but in getting them to speak out about the environmental issues that touch them.

Why shouldn't sportspeople get passionate about recycling, energy efficiency, cutting air pollution or providing clean water?

As an example, Michael Ballack, the German football star, is being used by the German Railway and the Local Organizing Committee of the FIFA 2006 World Cup as part of the Green Goal initiative to promote the use of environmentally-friendly transport during the World Cup.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I think there is a growing interest in environmental issues among international sports personalities.

One has just to look at our exhibition in the main lobby upstairs, or around this room this morning, to understand this.

With a little imagination, we can use influence of sportsmen and women to enhance environmental awareness in communities around the world.

I think we can also ask our heroes to motivate some action.

Tomorrow you will see first-hand the powerful attraction here in Africa of our top athletes when you visit the UNEP Nature and Sports Camp at the Sadili Oval Sports Centre.

The Centre, quite rightly, has received a lot of publicity in the past couple of days, so I won't repeat what you have been told.

Suffice to say, we think it is an excellent example of combining sport, environmental education and leadership training that we feel can and should be replicated, not just in the developed world, but for the many marginalized communities in the industrialised world.

Throughout the world, sports stars already engage in charity work for the sick and underprivileged. It is not such a leap to imagine that we can motivate them to help replicate such an inspiring example as the UNEP Nature and Sports Camp in their own communities.

In conclusion, ladies and gentleman, let me thank you for coming here to Nairobi , and for your commitment to promoting sustainable development through sport.

UNEP looks forward to working with you all as we face the environmental challenges that concern us all.

Thank you.