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Australian sports stars – the next eco-warriors?

Australia is sports mad. Where else would you get a public holiday for both a horse race and footy final? Sport informs our national identity and the way other countries see us. In recent years, we’ve also been identified globally as a fossil fuel loving nation, winning the environmental wooden spoon for our high carbon emissions. But could Australian sports stars help us kick some greener goals?

Dr Sheila Nguyen, Executive Director of the Sports Environment Alliance and Director of the Master of Business (Sport Management) at Deakin, is passionate about strengthening the relationship between sport and the environment. Right now Dr Nguyen is headed to the Paris Climate Summit (COP21) to speak at the Sustainable Innovation in Sport forum. She hopes to drive positive environmental change, using high-profile sports stars to capture Australia’s attention.

The link between sport and environment
So how are sport and the environment connected? The two are intrinsically linked by the resources needed to hold elite sporting competitions – a great deal of power and natural resources go into building, maintaining and running sporting arenas.

Environmental pressures could also impact the ongoing viability of sports, because so many are traditionally played outdoors. Scientists say Australia’s $12 billion sport market is being threatened by global warming. As weather becomes more extreme over time, we are likely to see cases of heat shutting down international tournaments, or drought conditions making a pitch unplayable, for example.

Big environmental efforts have been made in the US sports industry in recent years, with sustainable construction of venues, better waste management and recycling strategies, and the use of renewable energy. These sorts of public improvements could be adopted in Australian sports as well.

Athletes championing the environment
Due to our sports fixation, our star athletes, from motor racing to surfing, could be the environment’s greatest advocates in Australia. Using sportspeople as advocates is nothing new. We’ve seen success with many causes from breast cancer to race relations before, so this could be the key to selling a greener Australia to the wider population. Allen Hershkowitz from the Green Sports Alliance says, ‘Only 13 per cent of Americans follow science, but 63 per cent follow sports.’ Dr Nguyen adds, ‘I believe the statistic of fans following sport versus science would be even greater for Australians.’

Athletes like Alisa Camplin, John Eales and Alex Rance are already helping the cause. Dr Nguyen says, ‘In the history of Australian sport we’ve had voices that have been concerned about the environment, but there hasn’t been a concerted effort. We hope to harness all the voices. We need a big loud voice with a number of athletes communicating one message.’

'In the history of Australian sport we’ve had voices that have been concerned about the environment, but there hasn’t been a concerted effort.'

Dr Sheila Nguyen,
Director of the Master of Business (Sport Management), Deakin University

Spreading the word through people power
Sport touches a large segment of the community across a diverse range of demographics, so public messaging in sport has the power to bring widespread change. Dr Nguyen highlights the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a golfing tournament that is a zero-waste event and promoted as the ‘greenest show on the grass’. With its focus on sustainability and environmental best practice, the tournament uses golf as a vehicle to promote a green message to fans. Sports stars are just the tip of the iceberg, it’s the fans, and sport at a grassroots level that will create momentum for mass change in our attitudes towards the environment.

If you have thoughts on how we can create more sustainable sports in Australia, Dr Sheila Nguyen and the Sports Environment Alliance want to hear from you. Send a tweet using @SEA_theChange to get in touch.

Find out more about studying a Master of Business (Sport Management) at Deakin University.

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Dr Sheila Nguyen
Dr Sheila Nguyen

Director of the Master of Business (Sport Management), Deakin Business School, Deakin University

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