Sustainability in sport events from environmental, economic, and social perspectives

Sustainability is no longer just a buzzword it may have been for the last couple of decades. As the world continues to witness the ever-more apparent effects of climate and environmental changes, organizations and industries are realising the importance of the need to transition to more sustainable operating modes. Today, sustainability is a real requirement in all spheres of business management, and wider areas like travel, education, cultural and sport events.

Recently, increasing criticism has been directed towards international sports organisations related to the detrimental environmental impacts of global sporting events like the Football World Cup, the Olympic Games, and others. Voices have called on the organisers of international sport manifestations to take on more responsibility and implement all possible measures to ensure the minimum negative environmental impact and maximum economic benefits from these events. Sport events are however doubtlessly a source of entertainment and enjoyment for both players and spectators, and it is unlikely that the excitement and the atmosphere they bring can ever be fully replaced, no matter how broadcasting technologies may advance and how seamless of remote viewing experiences we may have available in the future.

Organisation of a tennis event and its impact on environment and local communities.

On the other hand, sport in general and sporting manifestations are also impacted by environmental changes. It is predicted that by 2050, roughly 30-50% of practices will be canceled due to extreme heat and poor air quality. It’s legitimate then that sport should be one of the industries to lead the adoption of sustainable innovations.

What does sustainability mean in sport events management?

Major sport events inevitably have a significant impact on the environment in many ways – from the construction of venues, use of resources and energy, to the effects of travel of competitors, media, and spectators. The impacts that a sporting event may have on the local communities and the wider environment, both negative and positive, can be looked at from an environmental, economic, and social perspective – and all these must be taken into account in the design and organizational process.

From an environmental perspective, sustainability means minimizing the negative effects on the climate, natural environment and biodiversity, and natural resources consumption, by using eco-friendly and renewable energy sources and materials.

How small sport events can impact nature and the life of local communities

Sustainability from an economic perspective is achieved by minimizing costs while maximizing the economic benefits of an event. This can be done using existing infrastructure and transportation networks, as well as working with local businesses and suppliers to cut transportation costs.

Social perspective relates to the effects on the local communities which are usually positive as these events often create job opportunities in and bring tourist interest for the venue location.

However, it is important to ensure fair labour practices and respect for wider human and labour rights are incorporated in the organisation so to prevent any negative social impacts.

Examples of sustainable sport events from near past

Some recent examples of global sport events that have incorporated sustainability practices in their organisation include 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, 2022 World Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The organizers of the 2024 Paris Olympics are also planning to implement measures to cut the Games’ carbon emissions by 50% (compared to the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games).

Drawing from these examples, here are some of the ways organizers can incorporate sustainable practices in sport events management:

  • Controlling and offsetting their carbon footprint: using low- or zero-emission technologies, incorporating renewable energy projects, supporting reforestation initiatives, etc.
  • Using existing sporting venues, repurposing temporary facilities, and building sustainable facilities if new infrastructure is necessary.
  • Reducing energy consumption and opting for green energy use: using renewable energy solutions like solar and wind power, employing energy-efficient equipment and technologies, such as LED lighting and low-flow water fixtures.
  • Collaborating with local food producers and suppliers and using seasonal food to minimize the environmental impact of transportation and maximise local economic benefits.
  • Control, reduce and recycle waste generated by the event: using biodegradable food packaging, reducing waste by providing water fountains, digital tickets and similar, providing ample recycling options.
  • Encouraging participants and visitors to use public transport and green alternatives to get to the venue: by including the cost in the event ticket price and by providing information about public transport options on their website and at the event. For the 2022 World Cup, the city of Doha provided dozens of electric bikes and scooters stationed close to metro stations.

We can conclude that sustainability in sport events is about balancing the economic, social, and environmental considerations of the event. Apart from the sport event organisers, few other stakeholders need to take part in these efforts: local communities by collaborating to source sustainable solutions; all participants to contribute by managing their waste and offsetting travel footprint; independent global authorities to monitor and report on the effects of taken measures; and educational and advising bodies to provide education for future sport managers on the ways to include sustainability measures in sport events organisation.

Experience the world of sport in the Olympic Capital

Participants attend several full-day workshops throughout the programme to experience sport. These sessions are delivered by the sport organisations and federations themselves and provide a unique hands-on experience and well as an ideal opportunity to connect to our alumni and experts working in the industry.