Earth Day 2022: The athletes committed to doing more for the planet

April 22, 2022

The theme of Earth Day this year is ‘Invest in Our Planet’. Olympics.com profiles some of the athletes who have done and continue to do so as climate change proves to be an ever-growing challenge to sport.

Sport is in a constant fight against climate change. Many athletes will tell you that – from less snow for winter sports, to extreme heat posing a health risk in summer.

The topic is ever-present especially in sports which rely on nature, such as skiing, surfing, snowboarding, or sailing.

It’s unsurprising, therefore, to find athletes keen to raise awareness and lead campaigns on the subject.

This Earth Day 2022, with the theme of ‘Invest in Our Planet’, Olympics.com profiles a number of top athletes from both summer and winter sports who are leading the charge in doing just that.

Hannah Mills (GBR)
Hannah Mills – the most successful woman in Olympic sailing history – has focused her attention squarely on the environment after retiring with two golds and a silver at three Olympic Games.

However, the Briton’s climate activism began long before she chose to give up racing on the seas.

In 2019, Mills launched the Big Plastic Pledge campaign with the support of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), attempting to raise awareness about plastic pollution and to encourage athletes and fans to abandon single-use plastics.

Speaking to the IOC in 2021, she explained: “I started sailing at the age of eight and, like most kids of that age, I didn’t really think much about sustainability or the environment.

The first time I really started to ask questions – I was about 10 or 11 – was when a piece of plastic got stuck under my boat, and I remember thinking: ‘What on earth is that doing floating around here about a mile from land?’ It was different then. It wasn’t such a big issue in the media, but I started to notice it more and more, and I was appalled about what I was seeing in the water.

Later that summer, after going out on a high with gold at Tokyo 2020, she led a group of more than 50 fellow athletes, global Olympians and Paralympians, in addressing the COP26 global climate summit in a video asking world leaders to do more.

Writing for Athlete365 alongside former Team GB rower Melissa Wilson, Mills said: “We also have the opportunity to be role models in how we behave. Changes that might seem small to us (and very small compared to the size of the problem) can have a massive impact when we share them with those in our field of influence. Like any massive challenge, it starts with steps taken day to day to improve.

As athletes, we know how to pursue a goal with total focus and determination. Let’s tap into that. Together, we can make a real difference and encourage ambitious climate action.

Mills and Wilson have also launched the Athletes of the World organisation to be “an advocate for change” in global issues including climate education and awareness.

Nikola Karabatic (FRA)
Three-time Olympic handball champion Nikola Karabatic is a legend in his sport, but the GOAT of handball wants to turn the world’s attention onto the climate emergency.

He is an ambassador for the non-governmental organisation Fair Play for the Planet in his native France, and says that doing things with the health of the planet in mind “became my way of living”.

Speaking exclusively to Olympics.com, he said: “It all started with nutrition, which also impacts me as an athlete, with thinking about what I put on my plate, where it comes from, and trying to make sure I eat things that have less impact on the environment – because it can have a huge impact.

Then came transport. I have lived in Paris for over eight years and, along with my family, choose to travel by public transport, bicycle, electric scooter or train. We are planning to move, so I will buy a car, but I’m looking for one that has less impact [on the environment].

I also support environmental causes, and I’m pushing my club, federation and national team to change their habits in terms of the use of bottled water and plastics.

The PSG player says he will continue to work for a greener planet after he retires from professional handball.

It resonates with me because the things I involved myself in over the coming years will be related to the planet. […] I try to view everything I do in terms of the impact it has on the planet.

Protect our Winters: Chloe Kim (USA), Jessie Diggins (USA), and others
Double Olympic snowboard champion Chloe Kim, who burst into the public consciousness at PyeongChang 2018 before retaining her title at Beijing 2022, is someone who has regularly used her position to speak out about climate change.

Climate change — specifically the lack of snow — is a huge hurdle for sports like snowboarding and skiing. “Seeing the impacts of climate change first-hand and hearing all of the discussions happening around it, I felt like I needed to get involved,Kim said. “My career and my love of snowboarding depend on it.”

Kim is one of several Olympic athletes involved with the Protect Our Winters campaign, which began in 2007 when snowboarder Jeremy Jones realised he had fewer resorts to ride at because of a lack of snow.

Other Olympic medallists involved are snowboarders Arielle Gold and Alex Deibold, cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, and freeskiers David Wise and Maddie Bowman.

Athletes for the Earth: Chris Mazdzer (USA), Zdeno Chara (SVK), Shiva Keshavan (IND), and others
Earth Day has itself linked up with athletes in the past, who have added their voices to the chorus calling for better protection of the planet.

The ‘Athletes for the Earth’ campaign counts on, among others, three-time ice hockey Olympian Zdeno Chara of Slovakia, India’s six-time luge Olympian Shiva Keshavan, and American luge Olympic silver medallist Chris Mazdzer.

Their message is varying, ranging from advocating a change in diet to help fight climate change, to pointing out the worsening effects of the climate emergency, but all have one common goal in drawing attention to the issue.

A few years ago, I adopted a plant-based diet. Choosing to eliminate meat and dairy and going plant-based helped me elevate not just my performances but also my well-being,” Chara says in a video from 2020. “I also believe what we eat can help our planet. We are at, I believe, a breaking point and we have to make a choice.

Mazdzer, who is also an IOC Sustainability Ambassador, said: “As a kid, winter was five to six months long, and that’s where I fell in love with luge. I’ve noticed over the course of my career that the winter months have grown shorter, there’s rain sometimes in the middle of winter, and our competitions are being affected more and more.

I’ve focused on learning about my own carbon footprint and it’s more important than ever to understand what we’re doing to the planet on a personal level.

Tilali Scanlan (ASA)
Swimmer Tilali Scanlan made her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020 representing American Samoa – a U.S. territory in the south Pacific threatened by climate change.

The Marine Science and Biology graduate from Fiji’s University of the South Pacific is at the forefront of the mission to protect the coral reefs of American Samoa.

She is one of seven people selected to take part in the National Coral Reef Management Fellowship Program 2022-2024 – a partnership between Nova Southeastern University’s Coral Reef Institute, the U.S. NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs and the U.S. Coral Reef All Islands Committee.

Scanlan will be working with the Coral Reef Advisory Group and partner agencies as the Fellow in American Samoa to conduct coral restoration trials. She will also focus on raising community awareness of best techniques and practices to help ensure the success of the coral restoration efforts.
She also appeared in the video message organised by Mills for the COP26 summit.

Kelly Slater (USA)
Slater, the surfing legend, did not make it to the sport’s debut at Tokyo 2020. But Slater – now 50 years old – continues to surf at a high level, and continues to be outspoken about the need to protect the environment.

His self-founded lifestyle brand uses recycled plastic picked from the oceans, and he has spoken in the past about his “love of clean seas” and a need to conserve the environment.

While surfing events at Paris 2024 will be held in Tahiti, French Polynesia – home to some of the world’s greatest natural waves at Teahupo’o, Slater has championed holding events at artificial wave pools, as the World Surf League does as his Surf Ranch at California.

Speaking to the Olympic Channel Podcast back in 2018, he also said he was working on making the artificial wave pool as environmentally-friendly as possible.

In the past when we have cleared out the water from our lake, we’ve given it to local farmers to grow – we’ve basically put it back into the irrigation system.

And when we have broken things down and rebuilt we have tried to re-use and re-purpose everything we have. Either by giving it someone else to re-use it or re-using it here on the property. When you build anything of this magnitude – this size and scale – you are going to have some things that aren’t perfect to be perfectly blunt but we are trying to be mindful of that and we want to bring in different technologies and different experts to be able to alleviate that in the future.

The IOC joins “Race to Zero” campaign
The International Olympic Committee itself has committed to not just being carbon-neutral, but climate-positive, by Paris 2024.

In October 2021, it committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. President Thomas Bach said then: “The climate crisis is arguably the biggest challenge humanity is facing. It is affecting all areas of our lives, including sport of course, as an important part of society.

By further reducing our carbon emissions, we strengthen our contribution to the realisation of the Paris Agreement, follow the latest science on climate change, and contribute better to this global effort. We urge all other sports organisations to follow suit.

At COP26 a month later, the IOC joined the “Race to Zero” campaign supported by the United Nations to work towards a carbon-free world.

All future Olympic Games hosts from 2030 onwards will also have to implement zero-carbon solutions and compensate for carbon emissions as a contractual obligation.

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