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For the world’s athletes, COP26 is no game

Athletes and the broader sports community traditionally have not had much of a presence at prior global climate conferences. That will change at COP26.

Green Sports


Athletes and the broader sports community traditionally have not had much of a presence at prior global climate conferences. That will change at COP26, taking place next month in Glasgow, Scotland.

The COP26 Sports Community Manifesto, signed by a global roster of more than 200 athletes, sports organizations and their leaders, will be presented to the powers-that-be at the conference. A grassroots initiative — Sport@COP — will host myriad activities and seminars in Glasgow during the conference.

Game on.

EcoAthletes, the nonprofit I launched last year to "inspire and coach athletes to lead climate action," created the manifesto to give members of the global sports community, especially those who won’t be in Glasgow or have a voice at the COP. Here are the voices of four EcoAthletes Champions who explain why they endorsed it.

Athletes and the broader sports community traditionally have not had much of a presence at prior global climate conferences. That will change at COP26.

"The climate problems we’re dealing with are getting worse and worse, so hopefully athletes can be part of the solutions," said Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter. "I see the manifesto as a way for the sports community to show the delegates at the COP that we expect them to take the critical steps toward climate action now."

"It's not enough for us to merely support things like 'reusable straws' anymore," said Sadey Rodriguez, University of Virginia discus thrower and co-founder of Green Athletics, a UVA student-athlete organization. "It's time to go big. Since I am privileged enough to have an athlete's platform, I am happy to use it to urge the leaders of the COP to take real climate action to help people who don't have a voice."

Rodriguez shared the Manifesto with other UVA student-athletes at a sustainability event — to date, 18 have signed on.

"Its first line — 'Anthropogenic climate change is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced' — really grabbed them. And then they started signing up."

"Two years ago, Team USA traveled to Qatar for a tournament, and we played a game outside, and we needed to walk about a mile to get to the venue," recalled Napheesa Collier, a forward for the Minnesota Lynx basketball team, the 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year and a 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist for Team USA.

"It was so blazing hot, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And I generally like the heat, but this was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This was not normal. So, I started learning about climate change and instantly became concerned about its harmful impacts now and in the future. This led me to learn more about it, and then I got even more concerned. So, that’s when I decided to act. One of my first climate actions was endorsing the Manifesto."

Finally, there’s Joe Cooke of the Glamorgan Cricket Club, Wales. "I studied climate change and the environment within my degree," he explained. "And I did my dissertation on how climate change will affect cricket. Our sport is certainly being impacted by extreme weather such as flooding, and that weather is being exacerbated by climate change. That's why I loved the solutions-focused messaging in the Manifesto, and am happy to support it and look forward to seeing the impact it will have at the COP."

Beyond the Manifesto, Sport@COP will provide the sports community with an on-the-ground presence in Glasgow throughout much of the conference, thanks in large part to the efforts of two green-sports leaders: Madeleine "Maddy" Orr, founder of the Sport Ecology Group and an EcoAthletes advisory board member, and Aileen McManamon, founder of 5T Sports.

Per the Sport@COP website, athletes and sports executives who make it to Scotland will have the opportunity to "shadow the deliberations of global decision-makers at COP and ... gather and engage in interactive sessions to drive climate action in our sector, ensuring continued progress toward carbon reductions and cleaner sport."

The centerpiece of Sport@COP, according to Orr, will be the Day of Action on Nov. 8, when professional and elite athletes will gather for a one-hour, peer-to-peer session on athlete activism for climate change.

"The session will be a closed meeting, exclusive to athletes," explained Orr. "It offers attendees the opportunity to reflect, ask questions, learn, and network. There will be multiple breakout rooms for athletes to engage in myth-busting and trouble-shooting specific challenges that arise at various stages in an athlete's advocacy journey. New athlete-advocates may discuss how to get started, whereas a more established athlete-advocate might join a breakout room where they'll delve into how to respond to haters on DM or the comments section of their social media pages."

The Day of Action program is free to attend but requires advance registration. A virtual participation option is also available.

Other Sport@COP events include a soccer match supporting the Climate Action Rally (Nov. 7); a Formula E (the all-EV open-wheel racing circuit) sustainability program (Nov. 9); and a Golf Environment Organization (GEO is a Scotland-based, sustainable golf nonprofit) Foundation event (Nov. 11).

More programming will be added between now and the kickoff to COP. Check with the Sport@COP website to find out more.

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