“Sport and politics shouldn’t mix” is a debate starter for the ages. Regardless of whether you believe they should or shouldn’t mix, the reality is that they do. In fact, we now live in a society where sport is providing a platform for team’s and individuals to challenge political and societal issues. From Sebastien Vettel’s t-shirt wearing support of the LGBTQ community, through to Marcus Rashford’s free school meals action leading to a change in government policy, sport and politics have mixed, do mix, and will forever continue to mix.
It, therefore, goes without saying that at the world’s most important climate change summit, COP26, sport has a crucial role to play. As a global platform with a unique reach and engagement, the industry touches almost every person in the world like nothing else. Where listening to a political leader about climate change might not catch your attention, it’s a sure bet that when your favourite sportsperson does just the same you’re far more likely to take note. But when it comes to climate change, the role of sport isn’t just as a communication channel to the masses; sport is directly impacted by climate.
From the suspension of matches at the Australian Open due to extreme heat to the need for artificial snow at the Sochi Olympics, and from flooded pitches in the English Football League to the cancellation of matches at the 2019 Rugby World Cup due to extreme weather, climate change is having a greater and more apparent impact on sport than ever before. However, before looking at others to blame, the sector needs to take a hard look at itself to fully appreciate the way it partly contributes to its own downfall.
It is believed that the sports industry accounts for around 0.8% of global emissions output, and while not as bad as many other industries, if it doesn’t act now then that figure will only grow. Through associated travel, energy use, construction, catering and a number of other contributing factors, sport has a responsibility too. The UN recognises the role the industry plays in the form of its Sport for Climate Action Framework, which asks sports bodies to sign up to five key principles:
- Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
- Reduce overall climate impact
- Educate for climate action
- Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
- Advocate for climate action through communication
At COP26, it is expected that the pledge from sporting bodies to play their part in helping the environment will be increased, with a requirement for them to achieve a 50% reduction in overall C02 emissions by 2030, achieve net-zero by 2040, and submit annual reports to the UN on progress to achieve these goals.
As an agency that has worked in sport since its inception 20 years ago, we’ve experienced first-hand the industry’s need to react and adapt to not just climate issues, but wider societal challenges. Nowhere has this been more apparent than across the range of motorsport series that we’ve worked in. From the World Endurance Championship adopting hybrid technology since 2012, to the first season of Formula E in 2014, and from supporting Greenpower Education Trust in their electric car STEM programme, to working with the electric SUV off-road racing series Extreme E, we’ve witnessed a transformation greater than in any other sport.
But the role of sport in positively impacting the global climate crisis runs far deeper than just making physical changes to its regulatory, organisational and logistical operations. As mentioned earlier, sport is the world’s greatest engagement platform, tapping into individual’s emotional consciousness like nothing else. It is therefore imperative that global sport serves as a role model, which for one, means choosing carefully which brands to partner with.
Understandably, when it comes to new partnerships, money often talks. Sponsorship deals have become huge investments driven by rightsholders increased understanding of its audience reach and means by which to engage with them. Although this might be to the financial benefit of the rightsholder, it can quite often be misaligned with its values and ethos. In a world where we are all more conscious of purpose and the role we play, the wrong partnerships can indeed do more harm than good.
With this in mind, should rightsholders now sacrifice huge financial sums for a different value – the value of long-term audience loyalty brought about by purposeful partnerships? 2–3-year big money deals can be short-sighted when blinded by the dollar signs, but if rightsholders really want to achieve long-term audience growth, and in turn generate bigger revenues, then they need to align themselves with future generations who put brands with a purpose at the forefront of their acceptance.
It was with this ethos that we as an agency took great pride in bringing together the Algorand Foundation and Envision Racing; the greenest blockchain company partnering with the first carbon neutral Formula E team. And where better for the partnership to get its first airing and for the team to display its new green-inspired livery – at COP26 of course. It’s just sport and politics mixing again…