The Sport Ecology Group Research Review (Volume 1)

The Sport Ecology Group Research Review (Volume 1)

Eco-friendly stadium travel, air pollution from sports events and rescheduling are the focus of the first Research Review

In the past decade, there has been a noticeable shift in the sport industry towards prioritising environmental sustainability and addressing the climate crisis. A growing number of individuals now acknowledge our moral duty to safeguard the planet and believe that sports should actively contribute to this endeavour.

As members of the Sport Ecology Group, a community of academics dedicated to researching the intersection of sport and the environment, we try to support and accelerate this shift through our findings.

Our interests span various topics such as climate change, sustainability in management, fan attitudes towards sustainability, facility and event operations, environmental justice, pollution impacts and more.

While our research primarily appears in academic journals, which are often read only by fellow academics, we occasionally get attention from the mainstream media. However, our work is typically behind paywalls. This is a challenge we’re trying to address: improving access to our research and expertise.

We maintain an open-access database where anyone can easily find summaries of the latest sport ecology research, tailored for those looking for real-world applications without the academic jargon. 

Additionally, we’re taking a more proactive approach by regularly providing Research Reviews, like this, in The Sustainability Report. These will offer quick snapshots of the latest research in the field, aiming to break down barriers to accessing valuable information. We hope you find this resource helpful in staying up-to-date with cutting-edge research.

1. Environmentally-friendly stadium travel of football fans: A stated preferences study by Thormann and Wicker

This research surveyed football fans to investigate factors that impact their decision to travel to matches either via bicycle or e-scooter: distance, benefits, costs, environmental values, environmental behaviours, sociodemographics and other variables.

It is well understood that travel to events is one of the largest environmental impacts of sport. Encouraging greener travel (or less travel) by fans, athletes/teams, and other stakeholders would dramatically decrease sport’s contribution to climate change.

The conclusions suggest that perceived benefits are more influential on a consumers’ travel intentions than the perceived costs; however, consumers were still seeking a scenario where benefits outweigh the costs overall. Some of the stronger benefits were considered to be doing a good thing for the environment, exposure to fresh air and avoiding crowded trains. A few of the strongest costs were considered to be: financial cost, inconvenience and length of time required. There are other interesting relationships to note from this study: distance travelled, availability of bicycles and e-scooters and availability of parking.

Perhaps the takeaway here is to encourage active transport by fans via role modelling and a focus on the benefits provided while decreasing costs where possible? Teams, and fellow fans, should be active in this effort.

2. The impact of sporting events on air pollution: An empirical examination of national Football League games by Watanabe, Yan, and McLeod

Large sport events negatively impact the environment, but do we know the specifics as to how they do and the influence that attendance has? Using the NFL as a case study, this research sought to quantify these impacts by using air quality data from near NFL stadiums against the attendance at each game.

Air Quality Index data captures six forms of air pollution. NFL games saw increases in two of these, Ozone (think: smog) and nitrogen dioxide, as the number of people in attendance increased. The authors suggest that the average NFL game increases local Ozone levels by two percent. 

In comparison to an average MLB game, NFL games are more intensive in worsening air quality: four times worse per person. Future research might need to examine this across other highly attended events in a variety of geographic, economic and transportation settings to truly understand the whole effect.

Borrowing from the findings of the first study discussed, it is imperative that lower-emission travel is encouraged as a matter of decreasing the environmental impacts of sport. It seems that when an individual travels to an NFL stadium for a game, they are entering a space with poorer air quality than the rest of the community on average.

3. (Re)scheduling as a climate mitigation and adaptation strategy by Orr, Murfree, and Stargel

Some research takes the form of a public commentary rather than an empirical study. These are equally valid and worthy of attention since they carry the backing of research and blind peer-review.

As our climate changes, we will see more disruption to sport and sport events. Therefore, we must be flexible and adaptable to these interruptions from an operational, legal, safety and social standpoint. While many sport organisations are focused on decreasing their environmental impact, there remains another side to the sport ecological coin to consider: how climate impacts sport.

In some cases, we may be able to engineer our way out of climate disruptions by playing indoors or in artificial environments. But, we may need to consider rescheduling of events from traditional times and calendars as a way of mitigating the harm to come. This includes rethinking everything from community sport to the Olympics Games.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown this can be done since we already had to adjust, in some cases midseason, to provide sport. In this commentary the authors highlight other stories of sport adapting to climate change via scheduling adjustments and call for more research and practice with this concept. 

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