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Three-quarters of athletes directly impacted by climate change, World Athletics survey finds

Three-quarters (75%) of our sport’s athletes perceive a direct negative impact on their health and performance due to climate change with 85% expressing that the sport of athletics has experienced adverse consequences, according to the third annual survey* conducted by World Athletics to gauge the attitudes of elite athletes about environmental and social issues.

These survey results, published to coincide with the start of the COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference which gets under way tomorrow (30) in Dubai, mark a notable increase from 2022 when 72% believed climate change had negatively affected the sport and 66% reported a direct impact.

The survey of nearly 400 athletes who competed at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 in August also found that 77% and 83%, respectively, said they were either extremely concerned or very concerned about the climate crisis and air pollution while 90% said that World Athletics has a role to play in building a more sustainable future.

Athletes’ increasing concern aligns with the current situation, as 2023 is poised to be the hottest year on record. A UN warning of a potential catastrophic 2.5°C to 2.9°C temperature increase signals a heightened likelihood of more frequent extreme weather events impacting the health of athletes and the sport of athletics in the coming years.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said: “Our athletes continue to speak clearly about the impacts that the climate crisis is having on their lives and on their sport. Their concern is loud and clear. It’s important for us to continue to act on those concerns and use the influence we have to help drive meaningful change.”

Acting on those concerns, in 2022 World Athletics established its ‘Champions for a Better World’, a group of nine athletes representing each of its six continental areas who are lending their voices to sustainability campaigning within the sport, allowing athletes to collectively raise awareness about climate change. As the group enters its second year, Australian race walker Rhydian Cowley becomes its newest member, joining a distinguished lineup of athletes that includes Kelsey-Lee Barber (Australia, javelin), Ajla Del Ponte (Switzerland, sprints), Alison Dos Santos (Brazil, hurdles), Sam Mattis (USA, discus), Eliza McCartney (New Zealand, pole vault), Ernest John Obiena (Philippines, pole vault), Elena Vallortigara (Italy, high jump) and Hugues Fabrice Zango (Burkina Faso, triple jump).

In its inaugural year, Champions for a Better World athletes participated in meet-and-greet events in the Green Zone at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, contributed to an Earth Day video project and promoted workshops and individual initiatives with their fans and fellow athletes.

To mark the start of its second year and welcome Cowley, a two-time Olympian, the group has collaborated on a new video spotlighting some of their own sustainable everyday habits to highlight, according to the survey, that 77% of athletes expressed a willingness to change their lifestyles to reduce their impact on the environment.

Over the last year, World Athletics concluded the second pilot year of its Athletics for a Better World (ABW) Standard, a certification developed to assess events’ sustainability in alignment with the organisation’s strategy. Scheduled for launch in January 2024, the standard has been introduced to organisers of nearly 300 events since its unveiling in December 2021. Budapest, hosting the 2023 World Championships, emerged as the first local organising committee to fully embrace and test the standard. The ABW Standard played a key role in World Athletics achieving ISO 20121 sustainable event certification in April, validating the effectiveness of its sustainability efforts.

*373 athletes participated in the survey, conducted between 20 August and 15 September 2023.

Credit: World Athletics

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