Among the many remarkable changes that were ushered in the 20th century was the industrialisation of leisure. Think about this a bit. Today music, movies or sports are all multi-billion-dollar industries with audience (or consumers) in practically every corner of the world that has also created stars who have made their way into elite billionaire and millionaire clubs. Among these many leisure activities, sports in my opinion stands out as a prime candidate to understand how recreational activities can also be made sustainable.
Let me first acknowledge that sports is much more than just entertainment. The universal appeal of sports is also because it promotes good physical and mental health and have always been a great medium to motivate young people to cultivate and imbibe good values like team spirit, sportsmanship, leadership etc. Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. Sport has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was only despair.”
But sports in the 21st century is capable of delivering a lot more, one of them being environment sustainability. While most sports fans may not associate their favourite leisure activity with climate change or carbon footprint, the fact is sports is no different from any industrial or commercial venture that impact our environment. Of the approximately 150 sports stadiums in India, a third of which are cricket stadiums, only a handful use clean energy like solar power. Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium became the world’s first solar powered cricket stadium in 2015, as part of its preparation for the Indian Premier League. Since then others have also followed suit including the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad that was inaugurated in 2020, is not only the world’s largest cricket stadium with a seating capacity of more than 130,000, but is also powered by solar rooftop. Globally, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was the first major sporting event in the world that made headlines with its green message – “Be Better, Together”.
But sustainable sports is much more than just using clean energy. From rainwater harvesting to waste treatment plants to using green cement and steel in construction, the scope for building sustainable sports infrastructure is quite vast. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, for example, showed us how to use recycled material including athletes’ beds made from cardboard, podiums made from recycled plastic, and medals that were made from recycled electronic devices – all adding up to an amazing ‘circular sports economy’.
To appreciate the value of sports in achieving our sustainability goals, we must first look at the big picture, not just the event i.e., a game or a tournament. Sports is a huge ecosystem, much like any industrial activity that heralded our modern civilisation. Vast quantities of natural resource go into sports from making equipment and merchandise to organising events that put enormous pressure on the environment. For example, day and night games have managed to draw huge crowds because of the convenience factor, particularly for the working population. The least we can do to counter the environmental impact of lighting up stadiums is to use renewable energy as the source of electricity. Since 2020-21, we even have a Formula E championship (electric racing cars), organised by FIA that made Formula One championship a sport patronised by millions around the world.
If we can shift our perspective a little bit and look at sports infrastructure as any other commercial or industrial equivalent, we will find ample ideas and ways to make sports more sustainable. Apart from choosing clean energy, by recycling water and waste and reusing concrete and steel from demolition sites to at least partly replace new materials we can create shining examples of how far we can go to makes sports greener.
There is also a sound economic rationale for going green in sports. The M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru has managed to cut its power consumption to a third (from 18 to 6 lakh units of power a year) and is even able to sell unused power to the local discom and earn some money in the process.
Sustainable or green sports has huge scope in a country like India. We are not only a sports loving nation, but the sheer variety of sports that we host and play is pretty impressive. We are not just a cricket country anymore. Recent successes in international sporting platforms like Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games or Asiad, in terms of medal hauls, have made a lot many more sports popular in India. Sustainable sports can be the gateway to living sustainable life too.