You hear it all the time as you grow up. No matter what sport - coaches and athletes all around the world will claim that the "game is their teacher." It teaches them communication, leadership, resiliency, and hard-work. It also teaches them humility, how to lose with grace, and how to bounce back after experiencing the lowest of the lows. Sports have the ability to instill values within people that they can carry off the field and into the real world. So why not continue to use sports as a teacher, but expand the curriculum? Let's use sports to talk about climate change, clean renewable energy, and animal conservation. Let's use sports to talk about why single-use plastics are killing the planet, or why we need to rethink and reinvent our agricultural systems. Sports and sustainability is a partnership that has the potential to truly connect with a whole new population of humans across the world.
Cristiano Ronaldo has 179M followers on Instagram. Lionel Messi: 128M. Neymar: 124M. Lebron James: 51M [these numbers are constantly growing by the way: from my time of writing this ~3 months ago, those 4 athletes have collectively grown by over 35M followers]. The impact and influence that these athletes have on their communities is explosive. It's not uncommon for modern-day athletes to leverage their platform to promote their political or religious beliefs. Yet, when it comes to sustainable development, why are so many athletes silent?
How can we start creating a culture where athletes are eager to connect with their followers to educate them, and ultimately encourage them to take action? Recently in the footballing community, athletes such as Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin [both Arsenal players, mind you!] have used their platform to speak out against climate change. Let's continue to build off of that momentum to educate and encourage action. If Cristiano can get men and boys to buy luxury underwear and socks just off the mere fact that he is Cristiano, can't he get his fans to say no to single-use plastics or donate to projects for land or animal conservation?
At the organizational level, various NFL, MLB, NBA, and MLS teams have taken huge strides to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. This indicates that these teams have successfully implemented systems within their stadiums to: 1) save energy, 2) reduce water, and 3) reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Collectively, these teams have the power to reach over hundreds of millions of fans: but why have these successes gone under the radar? [I'm going to plug my beloved Arsenal once more: they have made huge strides to reduce their carbon footprint - I'm a proud fan]
Professional athletes, coaches, and organizations need to understand that they can help save the earth with the power of their platform. They should be relentlessly promoting sustainable practices within their communities: big or small. This should not only be a top-down approach either. If you are an athlete or coach, start talking about using reusable water bottles rather than plastics. Support brands such as Adidas that just released the first ever running shoe made from 100% recycled plastic. Make sure you don't leave any trash behind on the fields once the games or training sessions are over. And when you see a coach, teammate, or fan doing the right thing? Praise them for it! Let's start creating a positive and active appreciation for sustainability within the world of sports.