‘Sporting Citizens’ and Humanity FC

Thursday 25th February, 2021

Today marks the release of an important Climate Council report into the effects of Climate Change on Australian Sport that includes specific measures for sport to immediately adopt in order to reduce our considerable emission footprint.

As important, though, is for sport to make a principled decision to speak out for urgent climate action and a just transition to the renewable economy.

Not a few brave athletes, like David Pocock, former netballer, Amy Steel and Matilda, Aivi Luik highlighted in the report but all of us, as an industry. A very powerful one which can propel social change.

Why should we, you ask? Good question, and a familiar one to which the answer is obvious. Because sport is populated by humans.

Sport is not immune from the broader impacts of climate change including more frequent extreme weather events, drought and bushfires, torrential rain events and of course higher temperatures which we have already seen adversely affect summer sport in particular, including the Australian Open tennis, A-League and W-League and Big Bash and Test cricket in highly publicised examples.

Sport is now being asked not only whether and how it will adapt, through a commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy to power infrastructure and events, more sustainable waste management, different methods of travel not dependent on fossil fuels and crucially a prohibition on fossil fuel sponsorships, but also what it will say.

Today’s report outlines a myriad of paths forward to sustainability but sport needs to decide whether we are going to raise our collective voice for urgent climate action.

Aside from the immense positive dimensions of Australia committing to participate in the coming global energy transition to renewables to underpin our future economic prosperity for generations to come, the so far tortured path to this transition needs credible, committed and courageous voices and sport’s social license places it, and its practitioners, in an important position as advocates.

Increasingly, global issues that affect us all are forcing every part of civil society, including much of the business community who might otherwise demur, to speak up and sport must accept our responsibility to join the now-clamour.

To those who like to pretend that sport is apolitical or to digest their sporting diet sans social justice commentary or activism, I say how fortunate you are to be in a position where your wellbeing, opportunities and even survival are not dependent on others in society taking action.

But there are many who are relying on us to do so and sport has a social megaphone that is critically important for the future of just societies everywhere.

A liveable planet in its entirety is an obvious requirement of a just world, particularly for those most affected like our Pacific neighbours, for example.

Should we really be playing sport with Pacific Islanders and against Pacific Island Nations, all the while refusing to speak out on their behalf for the contribution our country must make as fellow global citizens to the rising seas threatening their survival? Or should our cricketers be helping their colleagues in Bangladesh, with whom they share the field, and who face extreme flooding and human dislocation on an unprecedented scale?

What about our Matildas and Socceroos who play against every nation in the world, ostensibly? What is our obligation to help humanity itself be more just, humane and sustainable when many of our competitors on the field are, like us, at the forefront of climate change impacts?

Sport is an international community of shared humanity, and this is precisely what climate action is about. The intersection between sport and social issues, particularly existential and pertaining to shared human rights is so clear that sport’s responsibility to stand up and make a contribution should no longer be in question. The only issue is how we do so most effectively.

The report outlines a number of organisations committed to helping sport not just do more, but say more, and I encourage every Federation, club and athlete to use your platform and leverage in the public domain to assist the transition we must make as a country.

We will protect our treasured biodiversity and natural environment that sustains human life as we know it, be healthier and I hope a major, global force in renewable energy and these issues deeply and directly affect us all.

Perhaps a change in language would be helpful.

Instead of referring to participants as ‘athletes’ or ‘sportspeople’ as though that is their only dimension and we are removed from human realities beyond the stadium wall, let us call them ‘sporting citizens’.

We live in the same communities, under the same laws, regulations and alongside others equally if not more affected by human rights issues faced by our society. We are citizens and humans first, athletes second.

Sport is a valuable part of civil society in which we are all interconnected, not a phenomenon that is immune from the heavy lifting to shape the world our children will inherit.

It’s time to cross the unspoken threshold between sport and society.

After all, the most important team of all is Humanity FC.