On June 8, the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education hosted a symposium entitled “Sport and Sustainable Development: Setting a Research Agenda,” featuring research presentations by 11 speakers from universities across Canada, the US, and the UK. The keynote address was provided by former Mayor of Toronto and current President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada, David Miller.

The speakers covered a spectrum of different topics related to sports and sustainable development. Miller’s address, labelled “Yes We Can, Yes We Must!” explored historical environmental treaties, politics’ role in environmental preservation, and ways to reduce our environmental footprint in a way “far more inclusive of those in society who are marginalized, particularly economically.”

Toward the beginning of his address, Miller spoke about his childhood, emphasizing the sustainable lifestyles of his village outside of Cambridge, England, due to “no one [having] any money, except for the landed gentry who owned the village.” As a child, he recognized that the landed gentry’s class enabled their children to pursue an academic education whilst children of those who earned “working class wages” ended up attending “technical schools.”

“In my legal career, my political career, I think those values that were formed in this little village of sustainability…[shaped] my perspective of the world and why I studied economics and became a lawyer and politician,” said Miller. 

Miller also praised Canada’s increasingly important role in global environmental issues. He cited Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna’s unexpected success in helping reduce the 2015 Paris Agreement’s aspirational goal of temperature increase from 2 °C to 1.5 °C. He noted this improvement from the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, after which Canada was awarded the Fossil of the Year award by the Climate Action Network International for being “the absolute worst country at the talks.” 

Miller’s call to action involved Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, a term for the unique strategies for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that all signatory countries were asked to publish in the lead-up to the 2015 Paris United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change. He added, “What about other institutions?… Where’s U of T’s university determined contribution? Where are businesses’ contributions? Where’s WWF’s contribution?”

He ended his one-hour keynote by advocating for further infrastructural improvements of the public transportation system in Toronto, noting the “necessity of getting your transportation system right in a city if you’re going to succeed in achieving your climate goals and in achieving your economic and social goals.”

“On Global Sustainable Development Policy”

Political Science Professor Steven Bernstein’s talk centred around the progress that has been made in the field of sustainable development. The Associate Chair and Graduate Director of the Graduate Department of Political Science at U of T discussed the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs focus on three interconnected elements that are vital for the prosperity of societies and individuals all over the world: economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection.

Sport plays a role in all 17 SDGs through its ability to promote tolerance, respect, health, education, and the empowerment of women, youth, and entire communities. The UN’s Office on Sport for Development and Peace claims that sport has proven to be “a cost-effective and flexible tool in promoting peace and development objectives.”

Bernstein said that over the past 30 years, major economic and developmental institutions have professed four major aims: poverty eradication, sustainable development, economic growth, and deeper integration of developing countries into the global economy.

“There’s a lot of incoherence in sustainable development governments. Really, in my opinion, incoherence really prevails,” Bernstein said. This fragmented regulatory environment is mostly due to organizations with competing purposes and competencies trying to make various rules and regulations on several issues.

Bernstein focused his discussion on the events that helped shape the current SDGs and that helped familiarize the public with the notion of sustainable development. The Stockholm Conference of 1972 was the UN’s first international conference that formally introduced environmental issues to the political development sphere. Bernstein noted that the conference entrenched in the global mindset the idea that states have sovereignty over their natural resources, and it led to the creation of the UN Environment Programme — which helps countries implement sustainable policies to this day. According to Bernstein, development and aid were also on the agenda of the conference, something that many developing countries pushed hard for.

Fifteen years after the Stockholm Conference, the Brundtland Report was issued by the Brundtland Commission — Bernstein credited the report with popularizing the term ‘sustainable development.’ It focused on development that met the needs of the present without compromising future generations. In 1992, after the Cold War ended, the UN Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro, which was influenced by the Brundtland Report.

Efforts are still being made to overcome the challenges that obstruct the road to a sustainable world. Bernstein believes that bringing together all the different facets of sustainable development is a great idea that is hard to operationalize.

“The normative behavior of sustainable development — which calls for the integration of the economic, social, and environmental — does create a real challenge for how you frame these issues. They’re trying to do a lot. What is the focus? Is there overlapping mandates? Who’s responsible for what? It’s a great idea to bring these things together, but operationalizing is very challenging.”

Bernstein also believes that responding to every SDG is “a lot to ask of sport to do.” But he did suggest that sport can form a bridge that connects the issues and creates coherence in achieving particular SDGs.

“Add Sport and Stir? An Inquiry into a Place for Sport-Environment-Development (SED) in the SDGs”

Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo, Larry Swatuk’s talk questioned whether sport could be used for sociopolitical and sociological ends. Swatuk, a faculty member at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, believes that it is crucial to change patterns of production and consumption to attain sustainability.

Swatuk commented that he takes the research agenda for sport and the SGDs very seriously. This attitude, he said, was the reason he tried to focus his talk around that with the relationship between sport, production, and consumption in mind.

One of his main concerns regarded how production and consumption are embedded in sport culture, from clothing and footwear to equipment and infrastructure. This, he claimed, is how sport caters to consumer societies. And the waste that results from big sport events has a catastrophic impact on the environment.

There is some positive action being taken by setting benchmarks for future events and studying the impact of past ones. Other solutions include LEED-certified soccer stadiums and ecological footprint analysis. The latter is “relatively crude,” but it helps show those who go to the games the size of their environmental footprint.

Swatuk also talked about the convening power of sport. It rallies communities, engages youth, reaches vulnerable groups, creates shared interests, has a global reach and is a universal language, making it a great tool that must be utilized to benefit society much more than it currently does. But Swatuk emphasized the need to understand that sport does not transform a society. Instead, it mirrors society.

He added that the dialogue surrounding sport’s ability to impact sustainable development and issues like health, gender equality, and education is often soft and passive — the discussion does not reflect what Swatuk insists is the sure place of sport in addressing these concerns. “We need to think about a research agenda where it is possible to conceptualize sport as shaping rather than following,” he exclaimed.

“Leveraging Sport for Educating the Populace about the Environment” 

Kyle Bunds, an Assistant Professor at North Carolina (NC) State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, discussed tailgating culture in sport and the harm it causes, as well as the disconnect between environmental efforts and sports organizations.

Part of his research involved installing stationary air traffic pollution monitors around stadiums to track the effects of tailgating, which include generators being used to power music and grills, and car engines being left idle. Bunds claimed that students particularly would be using cheaper generators that cause more pollution.

He noted that even if younger people were informed of the harmful effects, it wouldn’t matter. “They say, ‘Well I’m here to drink and party.’ So there’s a culture around tailgating, so trying to get through that cultural imposition is important.”

Bunds also addressed the problem of sports organizations not being aware of environmental movements. “From 2003 until now, [NC State has] been doing environmentally sustainable things. We moved to composting and zero-waste initiatives at the stadium, and guess who didn’t know about this? The athletic department. They don’t know what’s going on.”

By “painstakingly” researching environmental policies of “every single team in the NBA, NHL, NFL, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer,” and by working with other sports organizations, Bunds has also found that “organizations largely don’t even know what they’re doing, as it has to do with the environment.”

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