Snowboard legend Terje Haakonsen in action during The Artic Challenge in 2009. The climate concerned athlete co-founded Greener Events the same year. Photo: Leo Brunvoll (CC BY-NC-SA- 2.0)

We need our own “climate change” in sport

Sport management students are concerned about climate change, and for good reason. So let us get the topic into our classrooms, auditoriums, conferences and journals. We are on extra time.


A few weeks ago, I did my first lecture ever on sport and the environment, or global warming. I felt good about it. But, at the same time as it provided added meaning to teaching the sport management undergrads this day, I know it was not a single day too early. Unfortunately, I do not see that sport officials, sport managers and the sport management academic field are brimming with concern about what sport can do to reduce carbon emission, and I myself have done little to change this. Despite the warning that has been there for a long time.

Isn’t time overripe to put this topic on the top of our agenda? Sport, like all of us, are producing a problem that has started to affect our lives, and boomerang on sport. Sport, with all its positive effects on the individual and society is worthy of preserve, but like any other human activity sport should not harm its social and natural environment. The greenhouse gas footprint from sport does in a way conflict with the positive health and social effects sport produces, and this should reflect our research and teaching much more than it does.

While there is a growing literature on the topic in our field, much more is needed, not the least directed towards the development of modern sports and the effects it has on emission levels. We need our own “climate change”, a climate where we in our research and teaching start to critically ask if the expansion of events, the building of new arenas, expansion of sport tourism, the race for ever bigger TV and media deals etc. are commensurable with taking care of the planet and creating more ecologically just sport organization practices.

We need to challenge our mental models. Is more sport always better? Alternatively, is more sport worse, and less sport better? Today sports compete to expand, at local, national and international levels. Does that increase the public good of sport? Does it make us happier? Do more of us participate? Or, is sport expansion simply an extension of capitalism and commercialism, which in effect encourages the exploitation of the planet’s resources?

Is the way we do sport today enhancing or reducing the possibilities for the next generations to do sport? Not to speak about those regions most likely to be hardest hit by global warming. Does the IOC sustainability initiative really make sense or should we just stop organising mega events? With the carbon emission from construction and long distance travels, is there a better formula than a global sporting event for causing maximum environmental damage?

Yes, it is easier to ask questions than providing the answers, and yes, doing and watching sport can work as an escape from all those questions that are darkening our existence nowadays. Isn’t that the good of sport, to give us a break? It is, but this does not remove from sport managers and directors, and those of us that teach the recruits the responsibility to organise sport in such a way that it contributes to reduce, and not intensify, the harm of global warming.

What did we do in the classroom? We challenged the idea that it is possible to be green without making any sacrifices, which seems to characterise the breed of Sport Management Environmentalist. Sport event managers are apparently serious about sustainability, but is it more than greening the surface? We challenged our anthropocentric mental model, and the derived idea that man still reigns over nature and can tidy up by renewed technologies. We discussed if it is sustainable to keep restructuring national league formats in team sport and FIFA’s expansion of tournaments in the top end if such action in the end leads to more airline transport and carbon emission.

Sport management students are concerned about climate change, and for good reason. So let us get the topic into our classrooms, auditoriums, conferences and journals. We are on extra time.


Professor Hallgeir Gammelsæter:

I fell in love with sport in the late 1960s, before sport was broadly broadcast. 50 years later, the hunger for watching sport has turned into a need for rationing it. Today, the access to publicized sport is limitless, but sport is also highly politicized and globalized. Sometimes that which is not showed is more intriguing than that which is recorded by the cameras.