Today, in many countries Sport and the Environment is understood as a
highly important subject. Scientists deal with this issue as well as authorities,
sports associations and conservation groups.
Above all, since the World Conference 1992 in Rio de Janeiro questions
of lifestyle are on the agenda for the environmental debate.
Sport represents a significant part of our different lifestyles and thus
automatically becomes a subject of discussion.
Many sports associations have built up professional and voluntary structures
and include environmental issues in their public relations.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), in close cooperation with
the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), hosted a World Conference
on Sport and the Environment in 1995 at which IOC President Samaranch
expressed: “The International Olympic Committee is resolved
to ensure that the environment becomes the third dimension of the
organization of the Olympic Games, the first and second being sport and
Subsequently to this conference a working group Sport and the Environment
was established by the IOC.
It is to be welcomed that the International Pierre de Coubertin Committee
has decided to make Sport and the Environment a central topic on the agenda
for the 4th School Forum at Genova-Arenzano 2003.
This paper is essentially practically oriented. It describes the most
important complexes of problems and shows appropriate action towards a
sustainable future of sport.
1 . Introduction
In our society sport fulfils important functions and is indeed indispensable.
It offers opportunities for physical activity in a world where physical
activity is increasingly diminishing; it promotes good health and well-being
(when pursued in moderation); and it provides a means of social contact
and ample opportunity for intensive experiences.
At the same time, however, sport can be a considerable cause of damage to
nature and the environment. Damage can occur directly as a result of the
pursuit of sports activities or the building and operation of the requisite
infrastructure, or it can be caused by indirect factors such as the use
of cars to travel to and from sports activities.
The causes of the conflict between sport and the environment
are inherent in sport itself and are also a consequence of deep-rooted
social changes; they may be understood only from this perspective. Since the
1970s, higher income, more leisure, greater mobility and increasing individualisation
have formed the basis for major and continuing changes in sport. These changes
include the following:
- a rise in the number of people who pursue sports activities
- a higher degree of differentiation between types of sport and sports
equipment as well as motives and reasons
- the use of areas hitherto unused or seldom used and areas already
in use being opened up for new purposes
- spread of activities to periods previously not or seldom made use
- fewer ties with sports clubs and their traditions
- increase in individual, spontaneous activities without proper training
- increase in activities offered commercially and to a certain extent
associated with aggressive advertising
Consequently, these developments have led to wider and more intensive use of
particularly attractive but, by nature, vulnerable areas. Sport is claiming
more territory, and this is continually putting numerous animal and plant
species under threat and causing the loss of natural landscapes.
Sport can not only affect nature and landscapes, but can also give rise to other
environmental damage. With regard to this problem, the use of non-renewable
resources, the emission of harmful substances during the building and operation
of sports facilities, journeys to and from these facilities, and the production
and disposal of sports equipment all play a key role.
Sports activities can cause critical damage to and endanger precious and vulnerable
locations. However, in terms of overall damage, sport tends to play a lesser
role compared to other causes such as agriculture, forestry, industry and
transport. In the analysis of conflicts between sport and the environment,
areas of overlap with other forms of land use must be taken into account.
At the same time, sport is also affected by general damage to the environment
caused by other sources. Such damage includes, for example, a large number
of devaluated watercourses, e.g. as a result of hydraulic engineering, pollution
of soil and water and air. Thus, while sport can be an obstacle to issues
of nature conservation and environmental protection, the two conflicting areas
also have common interests.
New approaches are required for resolving existing conflicts between sport
and the environment in the long term. This means, above all, orienting
conservation and utilisation concepts to the principle of sustainability
in line with the agreements reached at the Conference on Environment and
Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Sport must be included in the on-going
debate on implementation of Agenda 21, which was adopted at the conference.
The aim should be for representatives of sport and those promoting the
cause of nature conservation and environmental protection to join forces
and draw up guidelines for sustain-able development in sport.
2. Criteria for the sustainable development of sport
The model of sustainable development consists in reconciling the improvement
of economic and social living conditions with the long-term protection
of the natural basis of life in order to also give future generations the
opportunity to unfold. It not only addresses governments, but also business
and industry, all social groups and, indeed, each individual citizen.
When applied to sport, it becomes necessary to
- promote and further develop forms of sport which are compatible with
nature and the environment;
- make sports-related infrastructure more environmentally compatible;
- reduce damage to vulnerable areas;
- secure and improve opportunities for sport and physical activity outside
- preserve and increase the recreational quality of countryside and
its enjoyment value for those doing sport.
3. Areas of action
This paper limits itself to outlining central areas of action. The areas of
action are linked to one another in a variety of different ways; considering
them in isolation fails to do justice to the complexity of the relationships.
Therefore, occasional overlaps in content are unavoidable.
3.1 Sports activities in nature and the countryside
Sport and nature conservation can be reconciled almost everywhere. Thus
conflicts arising from sports activities in nature and the countryside
are not a general problem. They seldom arise on a large scale, but tend
to be concentrated in specific locations, which are characterised by their
special attractiveness for sport, as well as by a particular vulnerability
and the need for nature protection.
Critical factors with respect to the effect of sports activities on nature
are the extent, intensity and type of sport being pursued as well as the
resilience of the natural area being used. In principle, the use of nature
for the purposes of sport should stop at the point where the type of activity
concerned considerably affects or damages nature or the rural landscape.
Thus sports activities should take into due account the degree of ecological
resilience of the area concerned.
In order to reduce the damage to vulnerable areas early on and at the
same time fulfil the task of providing for recreation, nature conservation
bodies and representatives of sport should be more involved in the planning
of opportunities in resilient landscapes. A positive impact on the recreational
value of countryside is generated as a side effect of the various nature
conservation programmes on species and biotope conservation.
In the past, some countries have developed promising approaches, above
all in the planning and management of sports and leisure activities. These
are essentially aimed at ruling out, or avoiding as far as possible, potential
conflicts and lessening existing conflicts. Numerous regulations that
have been put into practice and proved successful show that they can meet
the demands of both sport and nature conservation.
For example, leisure activities and facilities that are not tied to a
particular natural environment or geographical features should be removed
from vulnerable areas and transferred to less vulnerable areas of manmade
landscapes or situated near residential areas. A wide range of measures
such as signposting, shifting car-parks, banning traffic from certain
roads, information boards, route marking, maintaining desirable routes
and closing down undesirable routes, setting up obstacles such as water-filled
ditches or bushes all make it possible to transfer activities from vulnerable
to more resilient areas without this being noticed by the people concerned.
Supplementary measures towards the restriction of activities to certain
periods of time could be planned.
In many cases problems only arise when the same areas are used excessively
at the same time. Before the use of such areas is banned altogether, the
possibility of restricting numbers of visitors to these areas should be
examined, while taking into account social fairness. In order to avoid
inadequate enforcement, planning possibilities involving the restriction
of infrastructure should be considered (eg. limiting parking capacity,
reducing the number of cable car trips up mountains etc.). In cases where
the pursuit of sports activities causes harm only at particular times,
restrictions during these specific periods should be considered. In this
way, nature conservation requirements during the breeding or moulting
season of birds or vital periods for other animals can be respected without
banning access to areas at other times.
It is also possible to reconcile sport with nature conservation by defining
maximum permissible group sizes, restricting activities to those which
do not pose any threat in the specific situation, declaring certain areas
of countryside off-limits (eg. banks of watercourses), stipulating specific
routes (eg. along watercourses), defining maximum permissible boat lengths
or permissible type of power source or imposing the requirement of producing
Voluntary commitments should be given priority for achieving conservation
aims as they provide greater clarity for those involved. If this is not
possible or proves unsuccessful, a wide variety of different solutions
should be implemented. It is the duty of sports organisations and commercial
operators to encourage a considerite attitude to nature and the environment
by providing information about ecological aspects. However, environmental
education processes will only be effective it all those involved are willing
to respect the restrictions and acquire knowledge of nature conservation
Restrictive measures intended to protect vulnerable or over-used natural
areas are successful particularly when attractive alternatives are offered.
These should involve upgrading the land concerned in terms of the aesthetic
appeal of the landscape, ecological and recreational aspects, as well
as selecting locations which avoid the generation of high traffic volumes.
Artificial facilities (eg. climbing walls) for types of outdoor sport
which take place in nature or the countryside provide only partial relief.
They do not provide a substitute for the experience of nature and may
in the long term even serve to increase the use of and thus the pressure
The measures suitable for avoiding and resolving conflicts arising in
connection with types of activities pursued in the countryside can be
summarised as follows:
- Developing binding, uniform and effective regulations in areas which,
for the sake of nature conservation, must be kept free of any use or
- Developing and testing effective measures, i.e. measures which can
be conveyed and controlled, below the level of a ban
- Shifting activities and facilities to less vulnerable areas
- Concentrating and managing activities (in terms of location and time)
- Targeted expansion of supply-oriented planning in resilient areas
where the countryside should possibly be enhanced
- Creating artificial alternative and substitute facilities
- Obliging all sports operators to organise their events and programmes
such that they are compatible with nature and the environment
- Systematically informing and educating people practising sport and
multipliers about the possibilities for pursuing activities without
affecting nature or the environment
3.2 Sport and physical activity in built-up areas
People who pursue recreational sports activities in nature and the countryside
mainly come from the towns. Both recreational traffic and the activities
themselves can cause considerable damage to the environment. If towns
offer more suitable opportunities for games, sports and physical activities,
it will be possible to ease the pressure on the countryside. Furthermore,
tying more people to the area where they live will help to lower environmentally
harmful traffic volumes. To this end, ways must be sought to better satisfy
the need for physical activity in the vicinity of residential areas.
In order to solve the growing problem of traffic in towns, the aim should
be to set up residential structures that put less pressure on people to
be mobile. A multifunctional approach to town planning gives rise to “towns
with short distances”. When it comes to providing residents with
sports facilities, this means that adequate and attractive opportunities
for sports, games and physical activities for all age groups must be created
or preserved in the vicinity of their homes. These opportunities should
be linked to one another via green belts with foot and cycle paths. The
“strategy of environment-friendly accessibility” is of utmost
importance for areas in the local neighbourhood offering basic opportunities
for games, sports and physical activities. If central areas suitable for
games and sports can be easily and safely reached by bicycle or public
transport by the residents of a large catchments, area, this will reduce
ecological damage due to traffic and cater for the needs of children,
the disabled, the elderly and other groups which do not have regular use
of a car.
The environmental and recreational quality of towns is becoming increasingly
important as a “soft” location advantage.
Only very cautious adjustments are required to semi-natural areas such
as these in order to make them useful. Here there is ample scope for linking
aims of nature conservation and recreation by providing semi-natural areas
which promise excitement and adventure. It is also possible to put buildings
and land to other uses and thus provide facilities for sports and physical
activities without taking up additional land. Redesigning or restructuring
former industrial buildings and estates, for example, opens up opportunities
to improve the range of recreational facilities available in a region.
Earmarking sufficiently large green areas in towns is not only in the
interests of sport (“sports-friendly town”), but also of environmental
protection (“environment friendly town”). In the tough battle
over different land uses, the representatives of sport and those of the
environment should join forces to set up a common lobby for more green
3.3 Sports facilities
Sports facilities affect the environment in a variety of different ways.
When describing and assessing them, a distinction can be made between
indoor and outdoor facilities. Compared to sports halls, outdoor facilities
require much more space. How this space is treated is of considerable
significance to the environment. On the one hand, the wrong choice of
location, improper care (over-fertilisation, irrigation using drinking
water, etc.) and unnecessary soil sealing can cause the loss of valuable
habitats and affect the soil and the water balance. On the other hand,
if environmental criteria are taken into account during the planning,
building and maintenance of an outdoor sports facility, especially in
conurbations, this can upgrade the area ecologically (biodiversity, microclimate
etc.) and thus increase the attractiveness of the residential environment.
Sports halls require only about 5% of the area taken up by outdoor facilities.
Excessive energy consumption and water use are the prime causes of environmental
damage in the case of sports halls. At present, an average of about 400,000
kWh of energy per year are required for operating one hall in Germany,
for instance. Today, reduction of energy consumption in sports halls is
mainly concentrated on heating/hot water supply systems, heat insulation
and lighting. Practical examples show that there is considerable potential
in sports facilities for saving energy and water. In order to exhaust
this potential, modern, resource saving technology must be installed and
user habits must be changed. Due to the large savings made as a result,
investments in energy and water often pay off within relatively short
periods. Building renovation, necessary in any case, and new building
plans provide ideal opportunities for installing environment-friendly
If environmental aspects are to be considered regularly and not just
sporadically, operators of sports facilities need systematic environmental
management. Essential elements of such management include the appointment
of an environmental officer, mandatory consideration of environmental
aspects when any decision is made, the introduction of eco-controlling,
as well as regular environmental training courses for staff.
By saving valuable resources, sports facilities designed and run on an
environmentally compatible basis can contribute enormously towards sustainable
development and thus also to the implementation of Agenda 21. This applies
in particular to climate protection through reduction of C02 emissions.
To summarise, the following steps are important for making sports facilities
- Initiating and supporting green consulting services for sports facility
- Tying government and association funding for sports facilities (grants
and loans) to the fulfillment of environmental standards
- Considering to a greater extent the possibility of making use of existing
areas and buildings for sports facilities
- Incorporating environmental management into the work of sports administrations,
clubs, associations and commercial sports operators.
3.4 Sport and mobility
Just as in other social sub-systems, mobility requirements in sport have
increased significantly over the past years. The reasons are manifold.
Sport has not only grown in general – another important development is
the constant growth in diversity. New types of sport frequently generate
the need for a greater range of different facilities. Reaching new locations
(sports facilities or country areas) demands greater mobility.
This is particularly true in the case of activities pursued in nature
and the countryside, to which soaring numbers of people have been drawn
over many years. Since most people have to travel short or long distances
in order to pursue these kinds of activities, sports and tourism are today
more closely linked than ever before. Nowadays, sport is often even the
principal reason for travel (e.g. skiing holidays), and in other cases
the activities offered are at least an important factor in the choice
of travel destination,
Even in built-up areas, people pursuing sports activities are required
to be more mobile. This is mainly due to the geographical separation of
working, living and leisure. In particular, the fact that sports and leisure
centres are increasingly built on the periphery of towns (in green suburbs)
has increased the distance to and from sports activities. However, sport
is not only to be found in sports facilities, but, particularly in the
towns, in public areas too (parks, play areas in streets, cycle paths
etc.) Due to other priorities in town planning over the past decades,
there is now a shortage of such options. Opportunities for physical activity,
games and sports have been pushed out of town life by new roads and streets,
land sealing etc, and this has resulted in people looking more than ever
beyond the towns for the recreational facilities they need.
The sustainable development of sport requires not only the avoidance
of unnecessary traffic, but also provision and use of means of transport
that are the least harmful to the environment. The goal and the reality
are still very far apart. Mobility in sport today is primarily “auto
mobility”. Sport thus contributes considerably to traffic volumes
and thus also to climate change. Already, more than half of total distances
travelled by cars are travelled during leisure time, of which in turn,
according to a Swiss study, 25% are linked to sport.
With respect to sports activities pursued in the country, two of the
main reasons for the high level of private car use are the considerable
requirements regarding equipment and transport and the difficulties when
using public transport, particularly the limited possibilities for taking
along sports equipment, the lack of transfer facilities between stations
and actual destinations, and the fact that routes and frequency of buses
and trains are inadequate considering the leisure time demand. Amazingly,
however, even in the case of sports activities pursued in built-up areas,
private cars seem to be the absolute number-one means of trans-port, According
to a study carried out at the University of Bayreuth (Germany), three
quarters of organised adult volleyball players’ travel to their training
sessions and home matches by car or motorbike. 55% of the distances in
question, however, are 5 km at the most. Sports associations and clubs
are thus called upon to create the necessary structures for more environment-friendly
mobility on the part of their members and to encourage their members accordingly
to change their habits.
To achieve environment-friendly mobility in sport, the following should
be given priority:
- enhancing the residential environment and expanding opportunities
for sport, games and physical activity in public areas within the urban
- encouraging the use of bicycles (linking sports centres to local cycle
path networks, setting up safe places to park bicycles at sports facilities
- making buses and trains more attractive as a means of transport during
leisure time (routes, timetables, fares, possibilities for transporting
sports equipment) etc.
- improving hiring and storage facilities for sports equipment at the
place of destination
- increasing the awareness of those doing sports (coaches and instructors
setting an example, lift-sharing etc.)
3.5 Sports equipment
The growth of sport and its continuing diversification into new kinds
of activity, particularly in the 1980s, led to an explosion in the market
for sports articles. Sports articles today consist of mass products.
Environmental damage can occur at any stage of the life cycle of a sports
article, namely during the acquisition of raw materials, preproduction,
actual production of the article, sales, use and disposal. Until now,
so-called end-of-pipe strategies have been predominant in the sports article
industry: these strategies focus on the subsequent reduction of pollution
that has already occurred.
The development of new sports equipment revolves almost solely around
aspects of function and fashion. Environmental aspects play a role only
in exceptional cases. For the sake of greater functionality in sports
articles, materials are often used which cause substantial ecological
damage even at the time of manu-facture, or which cause problems at the
latest when they are disposed of. The latter applies particularly to so-called
composite materials, which as a rule cannot be recycled back into the
Supply and demand influence each other in the sports article industry
too. On the one hand, the industry has adapted its products to the serious
changes in sports and leisure and responded to the consumer’s changed
preferences. On the other hand, the industry has helped to shape sports
trends and consumer behaviour by means of new and ever more spectacular
products. Against this background, marketing sports equipment without
paying heed to the environmental damage it causes and advertisements showing
behaviour that is damaging to nature and even, in some cases, unlawful
are particularly problematic.
A more environmentally aware approach in the sports article industry
should centre on preventative rather than simply corrective environmental
protection measures. Above all, this means giving (in the future) ecological
aspects high priority even at the product development stage. The main
aims should be to minimise negative environmental effects in the life
cycles of all products and to promote substance cycles. Here, the use
of recyclable materials is especially important as is unmixed production
and the easy separability of materials used.
It is not possible to create substance cycles simply through the activities
of sports equipment manufacturers. Instead, there must be very close cooperation
between manufacturers, suppliers and dealers. Such cooperation is an absolute
prerequisite for the production of recyclable products and the development
of a functional collection and recycling system.
The key steps towards greater environmental compatibility in the sports
article industry are as follows:
- taking ecological aspects (longevity, reparability, recyclability)
into account even at product development stage
- elaborating life-cycle analyses for widespread sports articles
- checking present possibilities for recycling or environment-friendly
disposal of widespread sports articles
- setting up a system for collecting and recycling sports equipment
(when the necessary prerequisites exist)
- no more depiction by the sports article industry (manufacturers and
outlets) of environmentally damaging sports activities in their communication
with consumers (advertising, PR etc.)
- setting up functional environmental management systems in companies
in the sports equipment sector
- spreading information on environmentally sound sport via sports dealers.
3.6 Environmental education
Due to the speed at which our natural basis of life is changing, environmental
education has become one of the major future tasks of mankind. As far
back as 1977, UNESCO declared that environmental education should be an
allembracing, life-long process which actively involves individuals in
the solution of specific problems.
In sport too, the importance of the “future task of environmental
education” is now undisputed. Avoiding and reducing sports-related
environmental damage requires the active involvement of those who pursue
sports activities. Environmental education should both encourage environment-friendly
attitudes and habits among people doing sports and ensure that planning
and legal measures for the protection of the environment are widely accepted
by generating understanding among people doing sport.
Environmental issues have now become part of the curricula of numerous
sports organisations. The purpose of environment- related basic and further
training of, for example, instructors and coaches, is intended to lend
more weight to environmental education, also as part of the normal work
of clubs and associations. The same purpose is being pursued by producing
and disseminating information material among club and association members.
Although they represent only a certain proportion of the people pursuing
sports activities, sports organisations carry special responsibility as
far as environmental education is concerned. They should not only initiate
environmental education processes, even reaching beyond the circle of
their actual members, but should also be willing to impose constraints
upon themselves and to respect limits. Sports associations and clubs and
each individual instructor, coach and supervisor should also set an example
with respect to ecological issues.
Environmental education is one important approach towards resolving and
avoiding conflicts between environment and sport, but is insufficient
on its own. More attention should be paid to the fact that educational
effects can. be produced by the structure and framework within which the
respective sports activity is purr-sued. Thus, information and education
should in future be complemented by the creation of conditions which encourage
environment friendly behaviour, There is a wide variety of opportunities
here, including obliging members to share lifts for away matches, providing
containers for waste separation or installing safe facilities for parking
bicycles (cf. item 3.3 “Sports facilities”).
To summarise, the following steps are especially important for future,
successful environmental education in sport:
- Drawing up and implementing to a greater extent overall concepts for
environmental education in which theory and practice are closely linked
- Putting in place the necessary structures for ensuring adequate and
high quality environmental education
- Testing models for influencing the environmental behaviour of non-organised
sportsmen and sportswomen
- Holding environment-related competitions in sports
- Developing and implementing models for sport compatible with nature
and the environment
- Anchoring environmental communication more firmly in the work of associations
and clubs and in the dialogue with broad sections of the population.
4. Summary and outlook
Sport can make its own important contribution towards bringing about
the model of sustainable development and thus to the implementation of
Agenda 21 in all countries. To achieve this, sports organisations and
others involved in sport must discuss this model intensively and anchor
it firmly in their work.
Rising numbers of users and the greater and more intense use of nature
and resources (land, energy, water etc.) have undeniably increased the
damage to nature and the environment by sport. At the same time, however,
the range of strategies and measures for avoiding and resolving conflicts
between sport and nature conservation and environmental protection, is
broader than often recognised. The coordinated combination of planning,
educational and legal measures promises to be particularly successful.
In the case of nature-based sports, emphasis should be placed in the
future on developing differentiated concepts for conservation and utilisation
with regard to nature and landscape; these concepts should involve the
adaptation of the type of sport to the features of the natural area. Vulnerable
areas should be kept free of harmful activities and sports activities
should be shifted to less vulnerable but nonetheless attractive landscape.
Legal measures should only be taken if the protection objective so requires
and other mechanisms do not function.
In built-up areas, the priority is to retain and expand areas near homes
for the purpose of physical activity, games and sport. A town offering
a good quality of life must offer ample scope for physical activity. When
sports facilities are built and operated, attention must be paid to the
careful and rational use of resources. In the case of existing sports
facilities, it appears that the potential for reducing energy and water
consumption is not yet exhausted. In the process of planning and setting
up new sports facilities, environmental factors should be ranked higher
than in the past.
Sport is responsible for a significant proportion of all leisure traffic.
Shortening necessary routes by providing facilities near homes is thus
an important starting point for bringing about changes, So far, the main
means of transport for those involved in sports has been the car. The
environmental damage caused by this is often underestimated. It is therefore
extremely important to develop and increase the popularity of more environment-friendly
forms of mobility.
Today, sports articles only very rarely satisfy the conditions for ecological
product design. Thus it is hardly possible to achieve closed substance
cycles. As closed substance cycle management is a central element of sustainable
development, it is also necessary to make changes in this field.
In the search for solutions all parties involved must cooperate. This
concerns above all sports and nature conservation, commercial sports,
politics and administration, trade and industry. Without the constructive
collaboration of these groups, it will hardly be possible to find effective
and generally accepted solutions. It is vital that the group concerned
in each case become involved at an early stage in the search for solutions
to the conflict. However, the active participation of each individual
person pursuing sports activities is also necessary. Thus environment-related
information campaigns among people doing sport should be continued and,
where appropriate, expanded.