Sport, Climate & Human Rights

Session Summary

The climate crisis is fundamentally a human rights crisis with implications for sport and opportunities for sport. The fallout from climate breakdown impacts people’s rights to health – both mental and physical, water, work, self-determination, and right to life, as well as the rights of children and others to participate in sport. Sport needs to assess their climate responses and make sure they don’t miss adverse human rights impacts, noting recent examples of human rights abuses linked to renewable energy supplies. Sports have a chance to champion transformational change on the climate crises by uplifting people and respecting their rights as they and societies adapt and transition.

Sport and the wider sport community rely on a healthy and stable environment to survive. Sport bodies urgently need to assess the risks to sport from climate change and mitigate those risks. Extreme heat and storms are already impacting grassroots and professional sport. Witness athletes having to compete in severe temperatures, disruptions to the sporting calendar, and smoke and air pollution caused by forest fires adding to existing forest fuel emissions affecting the respiratory systems of athletes at all levels of sport, especially children as they develop. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 illustrated the devastation we might expect on grassroots and elite sport infrastructure, as well as the vast cost of reconstructing sports facilities that aren’t climate resilient. There is also a justice dimension since climate change typically hits the poorest first and hardest; lower income households and minorities are most likely to see their ability to participate in sport curtailed. 

In Mexico ahead of the United ’26 FIFA World Cup as cities convene stakeholder consultations, civil society organisations like PODER are highlight issues of interest to local communities, including concerns linked to climate change. No new stadiums are planned, but as existing facilities, accommodation and infrastructure are uplifted or built citizens and local community groups are looking for assurances that there will be an inclusive and informed consultation processes and steps in place to avoid adverse human rights impacts often linked to large infrastructure projects - given a recent history of urban development projects in Mexico City that disrupted domestic water supplies. Mexico’s status as one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters puts the spotlight on high emitting sectors typically central to event preparations like: waste management, energy and transportation. Climate mitigation strategies and effective cost management will be essential if United’26 is to avoid local hostility over public funds being diverted from pressing needs that directly benefit communities and protect their environment.

As the world grasps the urgency of the climate response and rushes to act, there is a risk that people - especially those on low incomes - get left behind, which in turn fuels public resistance. Leading sports institutions through massive sporting moments can play a major role in galvanizing humanity's response to the climate crisis, and shaping it in a way that brings people along. Sport’s own climate measures, and the bidding and tendering processes put in place for major events, can positively influence host countries to accelerate their climate response. Sport can uniquely be a bridge between government, industry, and people, and help shift the narrative around climate adaptation. Sports events - like the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup which aims to be the first carbon neutral World Cup – also have the potential to showcase sustainable technologies and drive behavioural change among fans through a green fan experience that opens people’s eyes to the positive changes even in people’s daily lives. Sporting heroes and clubs - like Bohemians FC in Ireland who have appointed a climate justice office – are starting to mobilise fans and community-led, climate action.

Sport has a chance to be the game changer the world needs by leading from the front on rights-respecting climate action.  Sport events draw their legitimacy from the communities where they take place, but in recent times have been criticised for costly white elephant projects and failures to inform and involve local communities or respond to their needs. According to the Panellists a best-in-class alternative exist where:

  • Stadiums are built close to communities experiencing energy poverty and act as solar powered batteries that channel energy to local people so people don’t have to choose between food and energy, or events boost green spaces in inner cities that have are often only the preserve of affluent communities,
  • Civil society and community groups welcome sport events in their communities because of the chance to participate in event planning processes and projects which benefit local people, and to progress the agenda on climate action and justice, and
  • Global South countries clamour to host MSEs because they are seen to build social approval for, and move the dial on, climate action, with host cities known around the world for their better air quality, cleaner water, renewable energy, charging stations, zero water toilets, and green spaces where children can safely play and excel in their sports