Sport Positive Summit founder works to ‘unleash potential of sport for climate action’

Soccer doesn't have to be a climate killer, but can contribute significantly to environmental protection, says Claire Poole. [Kirill Sergeev/Shutterstock]

To achieve the UN climate targets, it is not enough for companies or associations to operate more sustainably. What is needed is a rethink among the general population. Claire Poole is convinced that sports can play an important role, which is why she organises the annual Sports Positive Summit. In this interview with EURACTIV Germany, she explains her vision.

Claire Poole is the founder and CEO of Sport Positive Summit, an event agency for a conference on sport and sustainability. She is pursuing other projects in this area under the Sport Positive brand.

Ms Poole, what exactly is the Sport Positive Summit?

An annual event where we bring together people from around the world who want to make sport more sustainable. We collaborate with UN Climate Action and the International Olympic Committee on this Summit, but we also run other projects and actions under the Sport Positive brand.

What is the goal of your organisation?

Our overarching goal is to unleash the potential of sport for climate action. When we started our work, there was already work happening globally, but in a more sporadic and localised way: sports organisations might offer regionally sourced catering, or encourage greater use of public transportation, and so on, but learnings weren’t necessarily exchanged globally. So the goal of knowledge transfer is high on our agenda, as well as encouraging sports fans towards positive environmental behaviours.

How sustainable is German football?

There are currently no fans in the stadium. Sad for the fans, but good for the environment, because fans are a burden on the climate. Sooner or later, they will come back, and in the meantime, clubs can take care of their CO2 balance. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Has there been a change of mindset in sports in recent years, towards more sustainability?

Yes, I think we have seen a huge shift generally in the last 18 months – two years, thanks to the likes of Greta Thunberg inciting media interest and making people aware of climate change issues. Within sport, the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework was launched in December 2018, which has massively increased momentum. Sport has a huge effect on sustainability – while many other sectors have a much higher climate footprint, like agriculture or the energy sector, sport is unique in that it can reach such huge numbers of people and raise awareness of environmental protection. Sports are extremely visible.

What was your biggest highlight from the last Sports Positive Summit in October 2020?

That it took place at all, following the many challenges that 2020 put in front of us. Despite COVID19, we didn’t want to lose momentum. Through our online event, we were able to show how valuable this networking continues to be – relationships were created, formed and strengthened.

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What can you tell us about Sports Positive Summit 2021?

It will be a hybrid event for 2021 – meaning we will have virtual and (hopefully) physical components. We have a contract with Wembley Stadium in London, so we want to hold a physical event, at least in part, but certainly with a virtual component. Whoever feels comfortable arriving should be able to do so – presumably, it will increasingly be people from the UK. But we definitely want to hold the Summit, because 2021 will be a huge year for climate protection, especially here in the UK, with COP26 taking place this November in Glasgow.

A week ago, you completed another project: A sustainability table of English Premier League soccer clubs. How did you come up with the idea?

Originally it was pure curiosity because I wanted to know myself what all clubs were doing and share that with the industry. In spite of our awareness of a smaller number of clubs doing great work, through our research we soon found out that all the Premier League clubs had already implemented or planned climate protection projects and initiatives – a positive surprise. The 2019 version took more than four months to research, devise and publicise, as a small number of clubs hadn’t worked with us before and wanted to ensure the data was being used usefully.  Through many conversations and working with the BBC as our media partner for launch, we were able to get all of the information we needed. The first time this has ever happened.

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How did the clubs react to the ranking, and how did their fans react?

The clubs’ reactions to the ranking in both 2019 and 2020 was really constructive. Those at the top were pleased their efforts were being noticed, and those towards the bottom wanted to think about how they could progress their efforts. As you would expect with British football fans, there was a lot of ‘banter’ on social media no matter where their teams ranked – as well as a lot of pride if their club had done well. Some fans of those who fell lower in the table commented that “We can’t even win the sustainability table, let alone the league”, for example. Whether fans love it or loathe it, we don’t mind right now – the fact is they are aware of it, and we know fans care more about climate protection now more than ever.

What are the next steps in the Sustainability Table project?

In the coming months, we will release the Sport Positive Sustainability Table for the top leagues in Germany, France and Spain – with many other leagues to follow.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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LIFE TACKLE is co-funded by the LIFE Environmental Governance and Information Programme of the European Union - Project Number LIFE17 GIE/IT/000611



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