Blog: Between responsibility, commitment and opportunity

The Role of (Commercial) Sports in Climate Protection

by Stefan Wagner

In Germany, there is no comparable phenomenon that unites, captivates, and moves people of various social classes and generations as much as sports—especially football, with its Bundesliga flagship. Sport represents emotion, movement, competition, commerce, authority, fair play, team spirit, and values. Sports stars are role models.

However, mass sports are also co-responsible for the increasingly severe climate crisis. To address it, a fundamental shift toward an ecologically and economically sustainable society is needed.

And here, sports step onto the playing field, as they contribute to significant CO2 emissions and associated social costs through weekly fan movements, athlete travel activities, energy costs, or waste. Costs that future generations will have to bear, with consequences that already hit people in developing and emerging countries of the global south with significant severity.

Politics lags behind with the necessary decisions, hesitating to make strong but long overdue cuts. So, the question arises: Who will lead and take responsibility in our society?

Sports, as the most socially significant actor, often referred to as the "glue of society," can act as a strong driving force with the means at its disposal (attention, value communication, fan engagement, access to sponsors, money, internationality). It can take the lead. Take responsibility. Face the opponent, the "climate crisis." But what does that mean specifically?

Message 1: Open up to the issue. Minds wide open!

First and foremost, it is about opening up to the issue—embracing all the contradictions that sports inherently bring. Seeing sports as an opportunity, as a means to tackle the climate crisis.

Message 2: Don't aim for perfection right away. Start!

The next step is to take responsibility for one's own emissions. Avoid – reduce – compensate. This is also a path that is not completed overnight. But especially commercial sports can afford and should strive to operate climate-neutral in the short to medium term.

Message 3: Take responsibility. Set goals!

Unlike many companies and institutions, the powerful actors in sports (sports stars, clubs, associations) have the opportunity to use climate protection positively in collaboration with partners and sponsors, as well as in interaction with their own followers. With smart approaches, this means: positioning with the potential for monetization => contributing to solving the climate crisis => inspiring others to participate.

Message 4: Be a role model!

In this way, sports can strengthen societal consensus. It can be a blueprint for companies, institutions, for everyone. It can trigger a domino effect. In this role, sports would do justice to its special position in society. Otherwise, it risks forfeiting that position in this crucial societal question.