‘Reduce environmental impacts,’ UK sports bodies told

Game Changer report highlights best practice examples, but reveals the huge impact climate change is having on several popular sports

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Wetter autumns are having an adverse effect on Britain's golf courses (Credit: Kevin Gliner)

Sports clubs and governing bodies all need to reduce carbon emissions and other environmental impacts.

That is the key message from The Climate Coalition’s latest report, Game Changers, that lays bare the significant impact changing weather is having on sports in the UK, with a particular focus on golf, cricket and football.

The report, which was put together with the Priestley International Centre for Climate, revealed that wetter autumns and winters were affecting British golf courses, reducing playing time by almost 20% in some places compared to a decade ago. Coastal courses, particularly prevalent in Scotland, are in catastrophic danger as coastal erosion threatens their very existence.

Increased rainfall is also causing problems for football, the UK’s national sport, with grassroots clubs losing on average five weeks of every season because bad weather. Even professional clubs are suffering, with Carlisle United needing to leave their home stadium, Brunton Park, for over a month due to the damage caused by Storm Desmond during the 2015/16 season. The exile cost the then League One club £200,000.

Brunton Park, the home of Carlisle United FC, was damaged by Storm Desmond in 2015

But cricket is the sport that appears to be most under threat. The period of time suitable for cricket is brief as it is in the UK, but since 2000 27% of England’s One Day International matches played at home have been disrupted by rain, with the number of rain-affected matches doubling since 2011.

Worse still, significant flooding over the past six years has taken a significant toll on grassroots cricket. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – the sport’s national governing body – has spent almost £3m in emergency grants in 2016 and 2017 for clubs with flood-destroyed pitches.

All three national governing bodies associated with the sports – the ECB, Football Association (FA) and golf’s R&A – have moved environmental sustainability up their respective agendas as a result.

Becoming more environmentally sustainable was one of the flagship targets in the ECB’s Cricket Unleashed strategy that was published in 2015. Aside from the reactive grants distributed to repair flood damage, the organisation is offering proactive help in the form of interest-free loans for recreational clubs embarking on sustainability projects, including energy efficiency, rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling and solar power.

The ECB is also preparing to launch a facility investment strategy to support long-term sustainability aims.

Sustainability in golf is being supported by the R&A’s Green Links programme, which made its flagship Open Championships “one of the world’s most sustainable sporting events”, by conserving natural resources and protecting the environment. Actionable advice is also available on the R&A’s website for members.

And in March 2018, the FA’s chief executive, Martin Glenn, signed off the governing body’s own sustainability strategy, with six focus areas – energy, water, waste, transport, marketing and communications, and procurement – although concrete details about the strategy are yet to be announced. It will be overseen by the FA’s Environmental & Sustainability Committee.

“My sense is that these sports organisations now feel a responsibility towards their community,” Clara Goldsmith, campaigns director of The Climate Coalition told SSJ. “And a lot of this stuff actually makes financial sense. If you’re talking about things like waste management and being more energy efficient, that’s something clubs will look at doing because it will save them money.”

Government stance

The Game Changer reports also stresses the importance of governmental policy in the fight against climate change. The Climate Coalition wrote to Secretary of State for Culture, Media, Digital and Sport, Matt Hancock, to highlight the report’s findings, though Goldsmith caveated that it was also the responsibility of sporting organisations to take a strong position on this subject no matter the government’s view.

UK culture secretary Matt Hancock

That said, the government published its landmark Sporting Future sport strategy in 2015 – the first piece of governmental sports policy in over a decade – and not one of its 84 pages mentioned the need for sports organisations to become more environmentally sustainable.

National governing bodies who rely on government funding will have certain targets to hit to keep receiving grants. Elite sports bodies have to demonstrate sporting achievement and governance compliance, while grassroots funding will be distributed to governing bodies for participation levels, and targets related to effects on people’s mental and physical health, social and community development, and economic development – but nothing about environmental sustainability.

However, the arms-length organisation that distributes the grassroots sport funding on behalf of the government, Sport England, has developed a Sustainable Clubs website alongside the FA, the ECB, Rugby Football League, Rugby Football Union and England Hockey to give community clubs actionable guidance about developing sustainable facilities.

It’s also noteworthy that the foreword to the Game Changer report was penned by Dame Katherine Grainger – the chair of elite sport funding body, UK Sport.

Clubbing together

British clubs and venues are playing their part. Arsenal FC’s Emirates Stadium and Lord’s Cricket Ground have become the first UK venues to use 100% renewable energy in their respective sports (the latter venue’s sustainability operations being overseen by BASIS chair Russell Seymour).

And Game Changer highlighted a number of other projects in golf, football and cricket that promote best practice, with clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United and Glamorgan Cricket Club referenced (see report). And fans are also starting to understand the consequences, says Goldsmith.

“For the past two years we’ve seen climate change on the sportspages of mainstream newspapers,” she adds. “One of the reasons we did this report is to make climate change feel like something very approachable and easy to get your head around.

“When you’re talking about something that’s happening at a local level and having your football club involved does that job brilliantly. If fans can see the steps that their local club is taking to make sure they’re fit for the future, they will start to take small steps in their own likes to address some of these issues.”

You can read the full Game Changer report here.

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