At a time when the EU is raising its climate ambitions and promising to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, sport must also jump on the bandwagon and accelerate its ecological transition.

At the conference, participants were unanimous in saying the sports sector should be seen like any other industry.

According to Peter Fischer, coordinator of the European Commission’s Green Sports expert group, this starts by “pointing out bad practices” and taking up an “educational challenge”.

“We need athletes who can be role models. Not necessarily stars, but athletes with stories like activists, adventurers,” he explained.

Such activists do exist in sports. One of them, Mathieu Witvoet, is one of the four swimmers in the “0 cigarette butt” project. He has taken on the challenge to swim the Seine River (380 km) to encourage the French to put away their cigarette butts in the dustbin.

“As an athlete, we have a role to play, we capture people’s attention,” he said, underlining the “ease of getting a message across” and the “role of responsibility” of great athletes.

“Sport is a tool to get a message across. It is a challenge for clubs and federations,” said Théo Curin, a French disabled swimmer.

However, the challenges are numerous.

With regards to waste management, for instance, the initiatives adopted in recent years have not made much of a difference.

“Each sporting event attended by 5,000 people generates 2.5 tonnes of waste, including 500kg of paper,” said socialist MEP Marc Tarabella. “The challenge is immense. For example, the ban on single-use plastics in Europe: we need global legislation,” he added.

Transport is also a problem, which concerns fans and athletes alike.

Fischer noted that the plane is still “very much used” by athletes to travel and that despite “pressure” from the European Commission, proposals on the subject are not on the agenda. He nevertheless acknowledged that Italian and German players were increasingly using the train.

When nature becomes a sports facility

Easkey Britton, a professional surfer, pointed out that “ecosystems help athletes perform better,” particularly in outdoor sports, such as those practised in natural water environments. This is also the case for keen hikers, who accelerate soil erosion and damage nature by using excessive paths.

According to Giulia Carbone Khodabakhsh of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), making sports more respectful of the environment is a collective struggle

“The federations must commit to raising awareness among fans and players, through educational programmes for example. Everyone has to do their bit,” she said.

Between the Paris Olympic Games in 2024 and the rotating presidency of the EU Council in the first half of 2022, France will have the opportunity to score points in making sports more eco-friendly.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]