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The Valley Female Leadership Network in Nova Scotia created an infographic to help make case for investment in girls and women’s participation and leadership in sport and physical activity. Reflecting on their experience, they advise: “You may find you have too much information but that’s okay, you can always create more than one infographic!” Learn more.

The sport landscape is full of great stories. Those working in the field have a unique opportunity to bring those stories to life and tell them in a way that’s compelling and thoughtful.

In SIRC’s October 14 Experts in the House webinar, Storytelling in sport: Why it Matters, and How to Master it, Jill Sadler of blueprint North America provided a practical framework to craft better stories, using examples and webinar participant ideas throughout.

Below is a video recap of the session and a Q&A blog with Jill, answering some of the questions posed by participants.

This was the sixth session in SIRC’s new webinar series, Experts in the House. Register now for upcoming sessions, and look back on previous sessions.

Please note: this webinar recap has been edited for brevity.


Q: In your view, story success depends on the D-A-D process. Can you walk us through what separates this three-letter acronym from other storytelling best practices and tips?

There are many different components to storytelling – structure, delivery, body language, timing, etc. Where we find people have the most trouble is figuring out WHAT story to tell. The D-A-D acronym provides three steps to help with the story building process:

The acronym is really about supporting one of the toughest parts of storytelling – finding an appropriate story that fits the message.

Q: What are the 5 key elements of a great story?

  1. Relatable Character – The audience has to be able to relate to the person or situation in the story. It doesn’t have to be that they’ve experienced that EXACT scenario, but they have to be able to say “I felt the same way when…”.
  2. Emotion – We know that emotions, not logic or fact, is what holds our attention, creates a bond with the storyteller and generates empathy for the overall story.
  3. A moment – A good story has a defining moment where things change. It’s when Cinderella leaves her shoe behind at midnight. It’s when the boy rushes to the airport but misses catching the girl on her flight by 1 minute. These are the moments that tell you a new normal is about to be established. It creates suspense and a desire to hear more.
  4. Enough detail – Skimming over details like the smell of the fire or the pink hue of the sunset deprives the listener of connecting to the situation. So give enough detail that the listener can picture themselves there but not so much that they lose interest. There is a fine balance!
  5. Structure – A beginning, a middle and an end. A baseline, a moment and a new baseline. All great stories have a structure to them. Think of your favourite fairy tale and you’ll see a predictable structure to follow.

Q: Are there differences in effective storytelling in different mediums or platforms e.g. written form, audio, video or otherwise?

Definitely. We know that body language, pacing of speech, and intonation all play a role in how a story is told. As such, the medium can really affect the outcome. If you’re in person, you have access to all of those physical components of delivering the message. Being on video gives you many of those same opportunities.

In audio form, you may work a little harder at pacing, leaving pauses for effect, or exaggerating the changes in tone to make the point a little clearer. When you can’t physically lean in to your audience like you would in an in-person session, you might take your voice to a really low whisper in audio to give the same suspenseful effect.

In written form, you lose the components I’ve just mentioned so you’ll need to create those emotions through the language. You may end up being a little more descriptive in written word to more clearly paint the picture for the audience.

Although there are differences based on the medium, take comfort in knowing the fundamentals are the same. Does the story match the message you’re trying to relay, does it have an effective structure, and have you delivered it with detail and drama to keep the audience engaged?

Q: There are a growing number of competing voices online, combined with increasingly shorter audience attention spans. What does this mean for storytellers, and for those aspiring to get better?

I would have two pieces of advice here:

  1. Work hard on a compelling hook. A hook is the thing at the beginning that gets the listener interested. Perhaps startle the audience with the first line, choose a surprising setting, or begin with a life changing moment. If you can start with a great hook, the reader will give you permission to take them beyond the average eight second attention span.
  2. Don’t be shy to tell a short story. We’ve talked about delivering with detail and drama and that holds true to all storytelling, but it is possible to tell a very short story and still paint the picture. Wired magazine asked a number of sci-fi authors to write a story in only 6 words. William Shatner came up with this:

“Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.”

It is possible to convey meaning, emotion and a message in just six words.

Q:  What’s the most common mistake or pitfall when delivering stories?

The most common mistakes we see in storytelling would be:

Q:  Who are some of your favourite storytellers?

Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Bob Costas, Simon Sinek, Malala Yousafzai, John Wooden and Roald Dahl to name a few. I think CBC offers some fantastic storytellers right in our own backyard – Stuart MacLean, Terry O’Reilly, and I can’t leave out Bob MacDonald!

Q:  Finally, can you recommend a few resources we can use to continue to build our storytelling expertise?

There are some fantastic resources available to help improve your storytelling skills – here are a few places to go:

For more webinar content and to register for future sessions, check out SIRC’s full series – Experts in the House.

“Know before you go” is a mantra driving organizations’ return to play communication, ensuring participants know what to expect, are familiar with protocols, and feel confident that health and safety is the #1 priority. Learn about this and other key factors in successful return to play plans.

When the initial shock of the COVID-19 lockdown passed, the attention of our sector turned to contemplating what sport and physical activity would look like in an era of public health restrictions. The development and implementation of return to play plans, driven by a commitment to sport organizations’ members and the practicality of long-term sustainability, is a task perhaps without parallel. SIRC sat down (virtually, of course!) with four sport leaders to discuss their return to play approach and key learnings to date. What emerged were five key themes focused on returning to play…better.

1. Safety – the #1 priority

It should come as no surprise that the four leaders identified the safety of staff, participants, and other community members as their number one priority. “We made it clear that compliance with public health guidelines was non-negotiable,” said Stuart McReynolds, CEO of the Abilities Centre, a community hub in Whitby providing universally designed programs and services to support health and wellbeing, social inclusion and economic participation for persons of all ages and abilities. “But we realized that there were tonnes of things that were negotiable – class times, set up, the streamlining of intake processes – where we could be innovative and create the best experience for our members.” Based on public health guidance, organizations developed a range of protocols, practices and supports. For WinSport, the not-for-profit community-based organization that owns and operates Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, this meant daily health screening and temperature checks when programming started in July. Jennifer Konopaki, WinSport’s Executive Director, Sport, reflected, “Some parents may have thought this was over the top; but others appreciated the efforts. In implementing the public health guidelines, it was important that WinSport make decisions in the interests of all our staff and guests.”

All leaders spoke to the considerable time and expertise required to understand and apply public health guidance. Consultation with local and provincial/territorial health authorities helped ensure return to play plans were compliant. For PHE Canada, the national voice for quality physical and health education opportunities and healthy learning environments, providing support to their national network of physical and health education teachers meant understanding the different expectations of health authorities and school districts across the country. To boost her organization’s capacity now and for the future, Amy Walsh, Executive Director of Hockey Nova Scotia, described the creation of a Chief Medical Officer position on their Board of Directors. This new position provided essential expertise during the development of return to play guidelines for Hockey Nova Scotia’s member associations, and boosts organizational capacity long-term to address key issues such as concussion prevention and management.

2. Commitment to a quality experience

Creating quality sport experiences given public health restrictions may seem like a daunting task. However, the sport leaders SIRC spoke with approached return to play with a blend of creativity, innovation, and a commitment to values-based sport. For example, Tricia Zakaria, Director of Programs and Education at PHE Canada, spoke about the need for physical educators and program leaders to be creative with places and programming, such as the use of alternative spaces (e.g. outdoor areas, little-used hallways and multi-use space) and activities requiring little or no equipment. “Driving PHE Canada’s support to our members was a commitment to providing practical ideas and solutions so teachers would feel confident delivering quality programs in this ‘new reality.’” The sport leaders also spoke about new innovations, from ongoing virtual programs, to cameras and live streaming so families can watch games from home, to the development of customer apps to support diverse program delivery.

Beyond programming logistics, the sport leaders described quality experience from a relationship perspective. Staff training built skills to support the social-emotional wellbeing of participants and staff, ranging from new relationship-building strategies that respect public health measures (e.g. with fist pumps, smiles and positive body language), to increasing awareness and empathy relating to the impact of the pandemic on physical and mental health. McReynolds described the Abilities Centre’s participant-centred approach, and the use of staffed contact points (e.g. exterior doors, registration desk, program area) to check in with members and ensure they feel safe and comfortable. Early program feedback from Hockey Nova Scotia revealed that the new small group programming supported stronger skill development opportunities and relationships amongst teammates and coaches.

3. Stakeholder communication and engagement

For the leaders, communicating with staff, volunteers, and – most importantly – members, has been essential. This included email updates, virtual town halls, surveys, and consultation groups. Shortly after lockdown, PHE Canada began hosting monthly cross-Canada check-ins, providing an opportunity for their network “to connect, worry and problem solve together.” Similarly, Hockey Nova Scotia hosted bi-weekly calls with association members that grew to 170+ regular participants. Walsh said the organization has benefited immensely from the insight and advice from the 50+ members involved directly in return to play committees. McReynolds spoke about the Abilities Centre’s approach to co-designing and co-producing their return to play plan, and the value of taping into staff (of whom 30% are persons with disabilities) in the testing and refinement of the Centre’s public health protocols and program models.

Stakeholder communication and engagement was particularly important as the organizations prepared to open their doors. First, it ensured staff knew and bought into the public health protocols. McReynolds said, “The public health training and communication with staff created a sense of pride that they work with an organization that had invested resources in ensuring staff and members felt safe.” Second, communication with members ensured they knew what to expect before arriving on site. Konopaki described how WinSport’s “know before you go” guidance for parents and summer camp participants demystified protocols and ensured families felt confident returning to play.

4. Supporting the broader community

Leaders also connected with external organizations and networks to share and learn from promising practices and evidence-based approaches. For example, Walsh participated in regular calls with the executive directors of other provincial ice sport organizations, and the Recreation Facility Association of Nova Scotia; Konopaki connected regularly with the Calgary Recreation Leadership Network; and McReynolds was dialed into Canadian and international partner networks in both the sport and accessibility sectors. Given the challenges everyone is facing, McReynolds commented that it was refreshing to see the open and transparent sharing happening between organizations with the intention of supporting everyone’s success. He said, “Now is the time to throw out the competitiveness that sometimes exists between organizations and share the information so everyone comes back stronger.” Konopaki commented, “It’s OK to not have the answers – tap into your networks to ask questions and access the expertise and insight you need.” Walsh spoke about the new relationships that were built that will continue to pay dividends, long-after the pandemic as ended.

5. An intentional approach

The most important element of the return to play approaches described by the sport leaders was a slow, intentional approach. For example, when WinSport opened its doors in early July, it was with one major offering – mountain bike camps. This is in stark contrast to their usual offering of 50+ camps. “Our team decided the best approach was to start small and not be a hero,” Konopaki said. “Mountain biking, delivered outside with participants’ own equipment, built on our strengths and gave us an opportunity to open our doors and refine our processes in a controlled way.” Similarly, McReynolds, who opened the Abilities Centre doors in late August, said, “We took a long-term perspective and avoided making any rash decisions – we knew getting it wrong could have huge impacts.”

Underpinning the leaders’ intentional approach was a sincere commitment to returning to play…better – more impactful, more inclusive, and more equitable. Konopaki described reopening as an opportunity to “disrupt the status quo,” recalibrating, reprioritizing, and in some cases stopping services delivered by WinSport. At Hockey Nova Scotia, Walsh used the months since lockdown to evaluate services, pilot new offerings, and update processes – such as building a new website for improved communication and encouraging multiple registration points to reduce commitment for the youngest hockey players and their families. For PHE Canada, Zakaria spoke to the creation of safe and equitable school communities that support children’s basic needs. For McReynolds, the opportunity to implement accessible and inclusive design and programming has never been better. Driving decision-making with their organizational values and the priorities of their members, these leaders are committed to returning to play better, providing an inspiring example for others.

SIRC thanks the leaders that contributed to this blog:

Recommended Resources

Abilities Centre COVID-19 FAQ

Hockey Nova Scotia

PHE Canada’s PHE Learning Centre and Return to School PHE

WinSport’s Safety Protocols and Summer Camp FAQs

Major sport events in Canada and around the world have been cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic. For sport administrators, researchers and policymakers, this pause represents a unique opportunity to reflect on the desired impacts and legacies of future sport events.

Event bids are often full of claims about the positive impacts of event hosting, both social and economic. In particular, sport events are often praised for the ability to increase sport and physical activity participation in host and non-host communities. Increases in participation are related to a “demonstration effect” or “trickle-down” effect, which refers to a process by which people are inspired by elite sport, sports people, or sports events to participate themselves (Weed, 2009). The demonstration effect can be measured in terms of new participants in a sport, an increase in participation frequency, participants returning to a sport after a long hiatus, or participants switching from one sport to another. In recent years, many researchers have dismissed such claims, arguing that there is no reliable evidence to support the existence of demonstration effects.

However, the question of the “existence” of demonstration effects may be far more nuanced than simply claiming they do or do not exist. It may be time for researchers to temper the debate about the existence of demonstration effects, and instead focus their efforts on investigating the mechanisms and conditions by which sport events are most likely to bring about desired participation impacts. The resulting evidence can help set expectations, assess investments, and guide legacy investments.

A Realist Synthesis Approach to Understanding Demonstration Effects

A realist synthesis approach to understanding complex phenomena explores a wide range of evidence to answer the question “what works for whom under what circumstances?” rather than “what works?” (Coalter, 2007). From this perspective, event impacts (e.g., increased sport or physical activity participation) are best understood as a result of the interaction of a particular combination of circumstances.

What follows is a discussion of some of the conditions that may be necessary for a major sport event to have a positive impact on sport and physical activity participation. By no means is this an exhaustive list of empirically supported conditions. The intention is to start a discussion about re-thinking what might be necessary conditions for demonstration effects to occur.

Condition #1: Youth Populations

Evidence to suggest that sport events will influence sport participation is limited when considering an entire host population. “One-size-fits-all” approaches to analyzing data may be masking evidence of demonstration effects present within particular sub-populations. Recently, for example, research has suggested that demonstration effects might be more pronounced among youth populations. For instance, Aizawa et al. (2018) found that the long-term impact of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games was more pronounced among those who were youth at the time of the event compared to other generations. Similarly, Carmichael et al. (2013) observed that students and those in part-time employment positions were more likely to participate in moderately intense activities after the London 2012 Olympic Games than people who were employed full-time. As people age, they may give a higher priority to areas of education, work, and family than to nonworking and sport-related activities (Aizawa et al.).

Condition #2: Communities that House Event Venues

Research into the demonstration effect has often drawn conclusions based on analyses of national and provincial/territorial-level participation data. Until recently, participation data are rarely delineated or examined within the local regions that house event venues. The notion of the “epicentre” effect suggests that when searching for evidence of a demonstration effect, researchers should first consider available participation data at local and regional levels, and then move outward and consider data at provincial/territorial and national levels (Potwarka & Leatherdale, 2016). Examined this way, participation impacts might be greatest near venue locations. For instance, Potwarka and Leatherdale (2016) observed no statistically significant changes in the rate of moderately active/active youth in Canada or the province of British Columbia from before to after the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. At the regional level however, the authors reported a significant increase in the rate of moderately active/active females from pre-event to post-event years in Richmond, BC. Interestingly, Richmond was home to the newly constructed Olympic oval, which saw a record number of medals for Canadian women speed skaters and was accessible for public use after the Games.

Condition #3: “Hometowns” of Medalists

Virtually every study of demonstration effects has examined participation impacts solely within host nations and communities, however demonstration effects have the potential to be a truly global phenomena. Millions of people from outside host communities and around the globe tune in to watch athletes from their own communities compete for Olympic and Paralympic medals. Potwarka et al. (2019) examined population-level changes in physical activity in the hometowns of Canadian athletes that won medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The authors reported statistically significant increases in physical activity levels among youth living in five (of 26) hometown health regions between the pre-and post-event time periods under investigation. No significant changes in participation were observed in any of the 26 control regions (i.e., regions that were not home to an Olympic medalist). People may perceive a special connection with elite athletes from their hometown because they share similar access to sport-related opportunities, coaches, and activity promoting infrastructure in the built environment.

Condition #4: Active, Engaged, and Inspired Spectators

Research has consistently shown that demonstration effects are most likely to occur within people and spectators who are already active sport participants and spectators (Funk et al., 2011; Aizawa et al., 2018). In particular, investigations of demonstration effects have revealed that people who are fans of the sport or have knowledge of the sport before experiencing live competitions were much more likely to intend to participate in the sport after watching it (Teare et al., in press; Wicker & Sotiriadou, 2013).

Moreover, what people think about, and what they feel while immersed in a spectator experience, can have a profound influence on post-event decisions to participate. In particular, fantasizing being an athlete participating in the action; intense absorption in the spectator experience; critically judging the performance and skills of athletes; and appreciating the grace and beauty of the sport itself, can influence the likelihood of feeling inspired while watching sport events (Potwarka et al., 2018). Feelings of inspiration while watching an event may play a key role in developing behavioral intention, and reduce feelings of inadequacy that can discourage participation (Potwarka et al., 2018). In an inspired state, spectators can become compelled to achieve new sport participation goals (Thrash & Elliot, 2003). In this way, inspiration can be thought of as an appetitive motivational state, which involves feelings of energy, confidence, and enthusiasm that lead to post-event participation (Thrash & Elliot, 2003).

Condition #5: Implementing Event Leveraging Initiatives

The demonstration effect literature consistently reminds us that the potential for demonstration effects is greatly reduced without carefully planned and executed event leveraging strategies (Misener et al., 2015). Leveraging is based on the premise that increased participation levels are more likely to result from the combined influence of staging an event and the implementation of interventions designed to promote sport opportunities (Coalter, 2007). In other words, a demonstration effect must be combined with opportunities to try the sport on display if there is to be a behavioral impact beyond just influencing people’s intentions (Chalip et al., 2017; Weed et al., 2012). Few sport events have included the design, implementation and evaluation of programs that encourage people to try a new sport (Taks et al., 2017). Researchers are beginning to examine the potential influence of exposure to particular event leveraging initiatives deployed before, during or after events on stimulating sport participation. Potwarka et al. (2020), for example, found that receiving a voucher for a free session to try the sport of track cycling stimulated participation among spectators with both low and high intentions to participate in the sport post-event. (Learn more about this research in the SIRC blog.)

Summary and Recommendations: Toward More Inclusive Understandings of Demonstration Effects

Legacy investments and event leveraging initiatives strategically targeting local sport organizations, community sport and physical activity infrastructure, and youth populations might help demonstration effects occur. Moreover, local and national media must continue to promote and cover exceptional athletes in communities around the world. These narratives can highlight athletes’ connections and experiences participating in their local communities. To maximize the likelihood of participation impacts from sport events, event stakeholders may also consider offering post-event trial opportunities and designing vicarious and immersive spectator experiences. Efforts should be made to make sport events more accessible to spectators by educating them about the nuances and rules of the sport before and during competitions. Doing so may create more engaged and inspired spectators.

Further research is needed to examine demonstration effects relating to non-mega sport events and ParaSport events (Misener, 2015; Taks et al., 2015). Moreover, attention must be directed at non-participants and those who are systemically excluded from participation opportunities because of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, socio-economic status, and ability/disability. Efforts must be made to remove barriers to post-event participation.

There may also be a need to build international research collaborations aimed at interrogating demonstration effects. To this end, it may be wise to establish a repository of national and more localized sport participation surveillance data, including demographic information, which could be shared among scholars and sport managers around the world.

In addition to further establishing conditions and mechanisms which might underpin the demonstration effect phenomena, researchers and event stakeholders should focus efforts on issues related to capacity and retention. While staging sport events might help get participants “in the door,” considerably less is known about evidenced-informed strategies to help nurture and maintain newly formed relationships with participants (Bakhsh et al., 2020). If sport researchers and event stakeholders wish to realize the full potential of demonstration effects, they must ensure spectator and participation opportunities before, during and after events are welcoming and accessible for everyone.

Recommended Reading

Byers, T., Hayday, E., & Pappous, A. (2020). A new conceptualization of mega sports event legacy delivery: Wicked problems and critical realist solution. Sport Management Review, 23(2), 171-182.

“In the midst of all the ‘noise’ generated by countless individuals and organizations, cut through the clutter by keeping communications concise and straightforward.” Derek Johnston advises to “keep it simple” during times of crisis communication.

Looking to refine your communication strategy in the current circumstances? Keep in mind four principles for crisis communication: 1. Empathize; 2. Focus on action; 3, Keep it simple; and 4. The medium is the message. Learn more in the SIRC blog.

Research with a professional Australian Football team’s season ticket holders revealed that good service quality, communication and administration positively influenced renewal and referral intentions, and provided a buffer against unpredictable on-field performance. This could help inform strategies used by sport organizations as they seek to maintain strong relationships with fans through COVID-19 restrictions and return-to-play scenarios.

Sport organizations around the world are in crisis communications mode, trying to figure out the best ways to use new technologies and compelling content to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many scramble to react to the latest development, and others sit paralyzed by indecision, there are well-researched and time-tested principles that can provide sport leaders with a greater sense of control over a situation that can feel completely overwhelming.

What’s first?

Start with a one-word question: Why?

Put another way: What specific outcomes does the organization hope to achieve through its communications efforts?

Conversations about communications often start with reference to a specific product or activity: “We need to write an email for staff and volunteers”; “What about a video message to calm the athletes and parents?”; “We’re looking at hosting some online video chats to connect with our members”; or, “We should be putting out more content through our social media channels.”

This is the wrong place to start.

Before confidently confirming the How, one needs to know the Why.

What are the communications objectives? What’s the problem or issue to be addressed? What would success look like? What’s the desired impact? And what can be measured?

The Why describes the destination. The How describes the strategies to get there.

So, what is your Why?

For most sport organizations, the Why boils down to the brand. At a minimum, the goal is to mitigate any negative impact on corporate reputation and on relationships with key internal and external stakeholders. At best, the objective should be to reinforce the core brand attributes and enhance the organization’s reputation through the compassion and competence of its response to the crisis.

Your Why could include statements like:

If handled well, an organization can come out the other side of a crisis with a clearer vision, better relationships, and a stronger overall brand.

What’s next?

Designing and executing a crisis communications strategy can be a daunting task. Success depends on keeping an eye on the Why, relying on proven principles, and choosing the simple answer over the complex one whenever possible.

Here are four guiding principles to help frame an effective approach to communications through the pandemic period (and beyond):

  1. Empathize. First and foremost, sport leaders must demonstrate they care about the people: athletes, coaches, parents, members, staff, volunteers, sponsors, etc. In the absence of authentic empathy, the audience will be far less inclined to hear the messages. “Authentic” is essential – it’s not possible to fake compassion.
  2. Focus on Action. Build communications content around what’s being done, more than what’s being said. Use a variety of communications channels to tell key audiences about the specific decisions and actions being taken to competently manage the crisis, to take care of them, and to invite their input.
  3. Keep it simple. This is a time of intense anxiety and uncertainty. In the midst of all the “noise” generated by countless individuals and organizations (e.g., news media, corporate statements, social media activity), cut through the clutter by keeping communications concise and straightforward.
  4. The medium is the message. Marshall McLuhan’s insight is as relevant today as it was in 1964. It means choosing the communications channel carefully. For example, leaders will be far more successful conveying genuine empathy when using a medium that allows for nuance and emotion – an audio or video message will do this far better than an email. An interactive, two-way approach (e.g., online meeting, news conference, conference call) allows for real-time questions and clarification which can be vitally important during a time of crisis.

There is no doubt that sport leaders are feeling overwhelmed, knowing they need to communicate but not entirely sure about next steps. The best place to start is with the Why. Clearly defining the destination makes getting there a whole lot easier.

We all have an understandable desire to protect the things we love. I happen to love sport – and winter sports in particular. Thirty years ago I remember poring over snow depth charts from the national park where I spent as much time as possible snowboarding. Those charts showed a downward trend in snow depths, opening my eyes to the possibility that a changing climate could negatively affect the places and sports that I love. It was sad to contemplate a future with shorter ski seasons and fewer powder days.

Scientific understanding of climate change, its drivers and impacts has expanded greatly in the last thirty years. It is clear that the relationship between sport and climate change cuts both ways – while sport is increasingly affected by climate impacts, the sport sector itself contributes to the problem. For those of us whose lives revolve around sport and the outdoors, we have an opportunity to position the sport sector for a low-carbon future, so that generations to come will have access to the same experiences we have enjoyed in our lifetimes.

Climate change and why it matters to sport

A recent Canadian study contains some stark conclusions – particularly that Canada’s climate has warmed and will warm further in the future, driven by human influence. Notably, both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the global mean temperature increases. The effects of widespread warming are projected to intensify in the future and include more extreme heat, less extreme cold, longer growing seasons, shorter snow and ice cover seasons, earlier spring peak streamflow, thinning glaciers, thawing permafrost, and rising sea level.

Many sports stand to be affected by warming temperatures and other extreme weather, not just those winter sports that depend on reliable snow and ice. While direct causality is not always clear, over the last year extreme weather conditions have made their presence felt at a long list of sport events. Consider the 2020 Australian Open tennis (heat and smoke); the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan (Typhoon Hagibis); and the 2019 IAAF World Track and Field championships in Qatar (extreme heat). As event organizers, we need to anticipate, develop contingency plans, and adapt to the changes that are already underway to ensure continued positive experiences for athletes and spectators.

However, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates that we must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the globe. Staying below 1.5˚C of warming means that we have to reduce GHG emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. Meeting the scale of the challenge requires action by all sectors to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The sport sector makes significant contributions to GHG emissions, and so equally, sport has a role to play in tackling climate change. The travel and logistics involved in bringing people together at sport events comes at an environmental cost. For example, each Canada Games involves thousands of athletes, volunteers, spectators and stakeholders traveling from across Canada, generating significant GHG emissions. While it is impossible for the sport sector to avoid all travel-related emissions, there are other options to consider, such as purchasing carbon offsets. Our first task is to carefully analyze our operations and identify opportunities to reduce our climate impacts. The current context of the pandemic is forcing many sport organizations to reconsider our essential operating models, providing a unique opportunity to consider new approaches.

At the Canada Games Council, we are passionate about our Games, the Canadian sport landscape and the positive role of sport in society. Now, more than ever, we need to work collaboratively to reduce the environmental footprint of our events and drive global climate action for a safer planet. That is why we made the decision to join the Sports for Climate Action Framework.

The Sports for Climate Action Framework

In December 2018, UN Climate Change, in partnership with the International Olympic Committee, launched the “Sports for Climate Action Framework.” The Framework sets the course for the global sport community to respond to climate change in a systematic and comprehensive manner. The approach builds on sport’s unique ability to inform and mobilize millions of people around a love of sport. Sport organizations can display leadership on global climate action by taking responsibility for their climate footprint and inspiring others to take action on climate change beyond the sport sector.

When the Canada Games Council signed onto the Framework in December 2019, we committed to strengthening our sustainability efforts and increasing our level of ambition for climate action. We are aiming to advance our sustainability practices across the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the Canada Games, while supporting our Host Societies and partners in their efforts to do the same. These efforts will touch on everything from office services, sport operations, transportation, capital construction, food services, venue overlay to merchandising. We will strive towards the following five commitments in the Framework:

  1. promote greater environmental responsibility;
  2. reduce overall climate impact;
  3. educate for climate action;
  4. promote sustainable and responsible consumption; and
  5. advocate for climate action through our communications.

Well over 100 sports organizations have already joined the Framework, including:

I look forward to teaming up with other Canadian participants, such as the Banff Marathon and Surf Canada, while exploring opportunities to collaborate with other organizations such as Protect Our Winters.

The Canada Games celebrate and showcase Canada’s next generation of athletes and leaders. I am constantly impressed by the passion, clarity and urgency that youth bring to the dialogue about the world that they will inherit. On this issue we can help educate our athletes and other participants, empowering them to advocate for climate action in their own communities.

The challenges of climate change will not be solved in one day, or one year, or with one environmentally sustainable event. It is important to realize that we do not need to have all the answers before taking any action at all. I know that we certainly do not. But by committing to the principles in the Sports for Climate Action Framework, the Canada Games has raised its level of ambition and taken the next step in its journey towards sustainability. This is a race we can win and we would welcome other Canadian partners in contributing to the realization of this goal.