Athleticsim meets advocacy

Posted on 12 Mar 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community directors Australia

Water Polo Australia

Fiercely competitive Australian sporting codes are increasingly just as committed to protecting the environment as they are about attracting new fans.

Water Polo Australia (WPA) has announced a partnership with not-for-profit oceanic advocates the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The alliance will allow the two organisations to collaborate on championing sustainability and the protection of marine wildlife, particularly sharks and stingers.

Water Polo Australia CEO Tim Welsford said sustainability was a key focus of the organisation’s climate action plan with the sustainability of Australia’s waters crucial to not just the longevity of the sport but the Australian way of life.

Water Polo Australia climate action strategy cover

“WPA recognises that our sport is not exempt from the impacts of climate change and that our sport’s impact on the climate is not insignificant,” he said.

“We have a responsibility to ensure our sport operates within and protects the environment we play in, and we are excited to begin a collaborative partnership that promotes the long-term wellbeing of our waterways and the marine wildlife that inhabit them.”

Australian Maritime Conservation Society CEO Darren Kindleysides said the partnership with Water Polo Australia signified a shared commitment to the preservation of the world’s oceans and precious marine life.

“We are excited about working together to raise awareness, promote sustainable practices and empower communities to become stewards of our marine environments, while simultaneously cheering on Australia’s wonderful water polo representatives,” he said.

“It’s a wonderful chance for AMCS and WPA to dive into new opportunities, where athleticism meets advocacy, and our collective efforts make waves for a healthier planet.”

“We have a responsibility to ensure our sport operates within and protects the environment we play in, and we are excited to begin a collaborative partnership that promotes the long-term wellbeing of our waterways and the marine wildlife that inhabit them.”
Water Polo Australia CEO Tim Welsford.

The collaboration is the latest in a global trend that sees sporting codes boosting their commitment to sustainability.

The international peak body Global Sustainable Sport has identified more than 800 sports organisations across the world that are driving sustainability through sport.

Those behind Global Sustainable Sport (GSS) believe that for too long sport has prioritised profit and profile over people and planet.

The organisation has worked with academics and practitioners to change that, by developing a framework designed to evaluate the sustainability efforts of sporting clubs and codes.

This would enable sports organisations to showcase how sport is taking a leading role in developing a more sustainable future for the planet.

Global Sustainable Sportaims to:

  • encourage more sports stakeholders to embed sustainability in their DNA
  • work alongside other stakeholders to develop a sustainable future
  • use the power of sport to inspire and engage fans and participants from all over the world to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle
  • use the collective voice of sport to drive sustainability
  • encourage all sports stakeholders to transparently report their sustainability outcomes
  • enable a more sustainable future for sport and the planet.

GSS said it provides a range of products and services to help sports stakeholders develop their sustainability programs, ranging from evaluating their sustainability activities to helping engage athletes and fans.

They include the AFL’s Richmond Football Club, which has published an Environmental Sustainability Action Plan designed to guide the club’s green efforts.

The plan notes that the sports sector is already feeling the impact of climate change, with playing surfaces threatened by the increased prevalence of extreme weather such as heat waves, drought, floods and bushfires.

This means the capacity of sport – an essential part of Australia’s cultural identity – to bring people and communities together is being compromised

In his foreword to the plan, Richmond CEO Brendon Gale described climate change as one of the most pressing challenges facing the planet.

“Sport and football are not exempt from the impacts of climate change and Richmond Football Club is now fully committed to action,” he said.

“This industry-first Environmental Sustainability Action Plan (ESAP) is a significant step forward in our climate action commitments.”

Elements of the plan include:

  • Reducing the club’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 in line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Sports for Climate Action framework
  • Sustainable sourcing of goods and services
  • Support for conservation efforts to protect the endangered wild tiger, the club’s iconic mascot
  • Using its influence as a powerhouse AFL club to take the initiative on climate leadership and education.

Mr Gale said the club was committed to taking an organisation-wide approach to sustainability and climate action, embedding them in the way it does business while also building awareness more broadly and contributing to education and behavioural change in the community.

“We are committed to doing our part to help create a world where sport can be enjoyed long into the future,” he said.

Richmond FC environmental action plan progress
Richmond Football Club's progress toward its Environmental Sustainability Action Plan goals.

The United Nations is also determined to encourage sporting bodies to take responsibility for their carbon footprint.

To help accomplish this, the UN Climate Action for Sport Movement has established a framework to support and guide the sporting world toward achieving global climate change goals.

The member-based not-for-profit Sport Environment Alliance (SEA) also provides guidance to the sports industry on how to become more environmentally aware and take action to reduce impact.

The organisation’s website says SEA is focused on celebrating environmental leadership and advocacy in the sporting community.

“We believe that sport has the power to influence – and we want the sport industry to be a megaphone for tackling environmental health at all levels of sport.”

SEA CEO Jan Fitzgerald said sport is embedded in Australian society, but climate change and extreme weather events – such as heatwaves, flooding or severe storms – threaten the viability of Australian sport as it’s currently played, whether that be at the local level or in professional tournaments.

SEA CEO Jan Fitzgerald
Sports Environment Alliance CEO Jan Fitzgerald.

"The physical effect of climate change on both participants and spectators is also a major concern and as such, over the last few years, we have seen several high-profile sporting events cancelled or rescheduled due to extreme weather events, both here in Australia and at the international level."

Ms Fitzgerald said from humble beginnings, sustainability has grown to become a major focus globally for sport.

So much so, it is one of the three pillars of the Olympic Agenda set by the International Olympic Committee while the United Nations has also acknowledged the contribution of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

"In Australia, Sports Environment Alliance is seeing an increasing number of environmental sustainability projects being undertaken by sports organisations, including initiatives in recycling, installing renewable energy, sustainable water use projects and designs of new sports facilities.

Ms Fitzgerald welcomed the partnership between Water Polo Australia and Australian Marine Conservation Society as an important step forward.

"Sport is played just as much along coastlines and in waterways as it is on land, and we’re all responsible for protecting the environments that we play in," she said.

"There are many sports and recreational activities that rely on clean and healthy waterways: canoeing, marathon swimming, rowing, sailing, triathlon and surfing. This partnership in particular signifies a shared commitment to the preservation of those playgrounds."

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