The United Nations, Sport and the Environment

, by Adrien Rodrigues

The United Nations, Sport and the Environment
Ⓒ UNOSDP - UN70 celebrated through sport

The world of sport was thought to be “hostile to environmental issues” for a long time, but it is now becoming an important actor in the field of sustainable development.

Cit.1: “Sport as a catalyst for awareness” Cit.2: “Contributing to sustainable development objectives”

A few years ago, the Olympic movement added the environment as the third pillar in its charter (along with sport and culture), and as one of the most popular sectors of society this was symbolic of its commitment to finding a solution to the biggest challenge facing our society: combating climate change. It is by using its popularity and its influence that sport actually has the power to fulfil its role as a leader of awareness and to promote actions leading towards sustainable development.

The United Nations Environment Programme

The UNEP was one of the first organisations to have contributed to this awareness. Created with the aim of coordinating the United Nations’ environmental activities and helping countries to implement policies in this area, UNEP quickly realised the potential of sport as a catalyst for awareness. At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer (Norway), UNEP encouraged the Olympic Committee to introduce environmental guidelines in its mandate, and this was successfully carried out. These first “Green” Olympics won the “Global 500 Roll of Honour”, awarded each year by UNEP to individuals or organisations working for the environment. This operation was continued at the Summer Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

World Cups and the Environment

Another event targeted by UNEP is the Football World Cup. The first one to include environmental objectives in the way it was organised was the 2006 edition held in Germany. Among its objectives were: reducing greenhouse gas emissions from public transport and the production of electricity, installing rainwater tanks in stadiums (the largest in Europe is in Berlin), and a project aiming to provide clean energy to more than 900 Indian families badly affected by the tsunami in 2004. 13 of the 16 “Green Objectives” in this competition were achieved.

Boosted by this first success, and in collaboration with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNEP decided to set up new initiatives for the World Cup in South Africa (2010), such as using renewable energy in six host towns, an awareness-raising campaign on “green tourism”, and a project for offsetting the carbon emissions of eleven of the participating teams.

Now its efforts are focused on Brazil, which hosted the World Cup in 2014 and will soon be home to the 2016 Olympic Games. This event has made sustainable development one of its priorities, with eco-friendly installations and a “green passport” (a book of advice helping fans to reduce their environmental footprint) among other measures in place.

This collaboration between sport and the environment was reinforced recently at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit from 25 to 27 September 2015. At this conference, sport was officially inscribed in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, a historical first welcomed by the IOC President, Thomas Bach from Germany. It now only remains to hope that the world of sport will be capable of shouldering these new responsibilities.

Article from magazine 34 of the Think tank Sport and Citizenship “Sport and Environment”

Unpublished conference “Sport and sustainable development, when the sport leaves its mark ,” March 31, 2016 , Nantes.


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