Olympic Sports Making Slow Progress on Sustainability, Study Finds

Most of the international sporting federations taking part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are taking minimal action on climate and the environment, a new study has uncovered.

Research taken by the University of Exeter Business School and University’s Global Systems Institute studied and ranked the progress on environmental sustainability made by each of the 32 Olympic International Federations across 47 sports since 2010.

It found only four of the federations had any evidence of a strategic plan on environmental sustainability. However, sports that have a close relationship with the natural world were found to be making progress, with World Sailing topping the list.

World Sailing corporate communications have written openly on sustainability, which the university found to be genuine and not just ‘green washing’. It also found evidence that World Sailing was involved in environmental initiatives and sustainability guidelines for events.

The organisation was also found to have a federation-wide strategy and objectives related to sustainability and an accountability system to ensure the strategy is being implemented. The only other Olympic federation to have the same measures in place was World Athletics.

World Rowing and FIFA made up the top four, however researchers found that neither federation’s environmental strategy required their subsidiary organisations to engage in activities related to the environment.

Meanwhile, 17 International Federations, including high-profile sports such as swimming and tennis, were found to have no evidence that they had environmental sustainability measures in place. This is unsurprising as the Olympic Committee has a decentralised governance structure, meaning inconsistent progress among federations on the environment.

The authors of this study, Dominique Santini of the University of Exeter Global Systems Institute and Dr Holly Henderson, Senior Lecturer in Management at the University of Exeter Business School, hope this study will help inform decision-making on how the Olympic Movement responds to challenges brought on by climate change.

“Climate change poses a multitude of risks for the sporting sector. Immediate climate change mitigation among sports organisations is therefore vital,” said Dominique Santini.

“To accelerate progress on environmental sustainability throughout the Olympic Movement an impact assessment should be conducted.

“The International Olympics Committee (IOC) should also establish a mandatory annual environmental sustainability reporting system for International Federations to increase accountability.

“A platform needs to be created to train, support and accelerate progress on environmental sustainability among the International Federations by enabling resources to be shared regarding transferrable practices related to funding, procurement and partnerships.”

Sustainability is a collective process in sport and all aspects of life

Cheering on Team GB and the incredible athletes across the world at the Olympic Games is great and their achievements will always stand the test of time, and a great time for the country to get together. Similarly, with the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham in 2022, that collective support will only continue to grow.

However, sporting federations must take more responsibility on environmental sustainability, especially as competitions are taking place all year-round across the globe and not just every four years at an Olympic Games. With environmental sustainability measures in place, everyone associated with those federations can help reduce carbon emissions and create a greener future for us all.

Similarly, the Challenge 2025 movement was created as petrol power tools aren’t regulated in the same way petrol engine cars are, which is astounding considering we discovered that 11x more carbon monoxide is emitted by a petrol leaf blower when compared to a Ford Fiesta.

Discover more about our work and take up the challenge today by downloading The Report here: https://www.challenge2025.eu/thereport/.

Sign up for updates

  • Sign up below and we'll send you news and updates regarding the Challenge 2025 campaign. You can unsubscribe at any time.