It’s about time Kenyan sports fully entered the climate space

Nairobi City Marathon

Athletes compete 21km in Nairobi City Marathon on July 2,2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • As David Goldblatt asserts in his report “Mapping the Sport and Climate Space”, sport is well placed to make a major cultural and political contribution to the climate change debate.
  • “Sport has a global and demographic reach that no other popular cultural phenomenon can claim,” he says.

Global warming is easily the greatest threat to human existence if we believe the scenario painted by scientists.

We are told the rise in the world’s average temperatures is mainly caused by greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere that end up trapping heat.

This has led to increased drought and flooding around the world and is a dire warning that humans need to change how they use the resources of the world.

Some doomsday proponents even suggest that at the current trend the earth will reach a point of no return, in trying to reverse the rising temperatures and our world as we know it will hurtle to its end. Pretty scary stuff this.
A commentator likened human beings to viruses.

That these submicroscopic, simplest forms of life first infect their host and successfully replicate until they fatally overwhelm the host. That human beings are no different, they invade an ecosystem, strip it of its resources then move on to another, only there is one earth.

Nature will fight back and nature will win. But as humans we cannot resign ourselves to the inevitable fate staring at us thus the huge global effort to try and reverse climate change.

Ironically, Africa has been hit particularly hard by the effects of global warming despite being the smallest violator of greenhouse emission.

In fact, according to the UN, Africa accounts for just about 3 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions with China the largest emitter at 23 per cent, followed by the US (19 per cent) and European Union (13 per cent).

Africa has suffered the most as a result of climate change,  experiencing decreased food production, spread of diseases, change of natural ecosystems, reduction of its biodiversity and all those scary things scientists tell us.

It was thus encouraging to see the continent hold its first climate summit. The African Climate Summit 2023 held in Nairobi last week called on the rich West to pay for the devastating effect of climate change on the continent, something that has never been forthcoming.

At least the Nairobi meeting got a commitment of $24billion in funding mitigation measures against climate change effects.

You may be wondering what global warming has got to do with a sports article. A lot because climate change has also affected sports.

For instance, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games marathon and race walk events were moved from Tokyo to Sapporo some 1,000km away because of the prevailing humid and dangerously hot conditions in the Japanese capital then.

At the 2018 US Tennis Open, temperatures on court peaked at 49 degrees Celsius causing five players to retire from matches for heat-related reasons. Officials mandated the first use of the tournament’s extreme heat policy, allowing more and longer breaks during matches.

Over the past few years the world of sports has begun to seriously engage with the climate crisis.

The United Nation Sport for Climate Action Framework (UNSCAF) was created in 2016 and has over 300 signatories including the majority of international sports federations like IOC, Fifa, World Athletics, UCI and Uefa.

Signatories commit to a range of climate action engagements like educating athletes and spectators, engaging all their stakeholders in climate issues, measuring their own emissions and halving them by 2030.

The carbon emission at the 2022 World Cup was a big talking point with Fifa accused by a Swiss regulator of making false statements about the reduced environmental impact of the tournament.

Sports carbon emission in Kenya I venture is negligible. We do not even go to the stadiums so there would be no carbon footprint by fans to even measure.

But it is encouraging that some Kenyan athletes and federations are responding to climate change issues.

Our most famous athlete Eliud Kipchoge has often used his big voice to tell the world, “look after our planet; it's our only home”. The world marathon record holder has a foundation that advocates for tree planting. In 2021, the Olympic marathon champion adopted 50 hectares of forest land in Kaptagat.

Athletics Kenya (AK) are the only sports body in Kenya and Africa (I think) that are a signatory of UNSCAF.

AK are miles ahead of their peers here. They have installed various air quality monitors in the country including at venues hosting their events to ensure athletes compete in a safe environment. They plant trees. They also measure the athletics carbon footprint in the country. Kudos!

Safari Rally Ltd pledged, as part of their greening legacy project, to plant 19 million trees in three years, in 2020, to commemorate their return to the WRC after a 19-year hiatus. Great! I wonder how many trees they have planted so far, and where.

Kenyan sportsmen and women can engage in athlete advocacy to tackle climate change issues.

Federations, many that are silent on the subject, can lend their voices to the climate debate so that the conversations can resonate within Kenyan sport.

As David Goldblatt asserts in his report “Mapping the Sport and Climate Space”, sport is well placed to make a major cultural and political contribution to the climate change debate.

“Sport has a global and demographic reach that no other popular cultural phenomenon can claim,” he says.