„Nachhaltigkeitsimpulse in den Sport bringen“
Within the context of the For-Future movement, a sports-related organization called "Sports For Future" has emerged. In an interview with Stadionwelt, Stefan Wagner, the 1st Chairman, discussed the background idea of "Sports For Future" and the importance of climate protection.
Stadionwelt: To start, could you please explain what "Sports For Future" is and how the organization is structured or composed?
Wagner: The organization originated from my professional role. I spent 3.5 years with the T-Mobile Team and then a little over 8 years with HSV before becoming self-employed with my wife. In this role, we, among other things, wrote the sustainability report for the DFB. At TSG Hoffenheim, I am responsible for the Business Development department, where sustainability is a central focus. We are very active in climate protection, and we began to wonder about the role of sports in the climate crisis. We felt there was still a lot of room for improvement. Looking at the For-Future group scene, we noticed that sports were not represented. This seemed absurd to us, given that sports have fantastic opportunities to contribute to this crucial issue. Thus, the idea of "Sports For Future" was born. We initiated the project with TSG Hoffenheim, followed by Werder Bremen, VfL Osnabrück, and the German Sports Youth as the first contact points. Until now, we have gathered a support network of almost 300 clubs, associations, and athletes representing more than 22 million athletes.
Stadionwelt: Your organization has been active since 2019. How was it founded, what were the processes, and what was the initiative's concept?
Wagner: Initially, we were a pure initiative. We had a website where people could sign up and support our position. Our basic idea is to support the adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement based on scientific principles, which is the foundation of all For-Future movements. We want to bring sustainability impulses to sports and use sports as a platform to introduce people to the topic of climate protection in their daily lives. We then intensified the founding of the association with some protagonists from the network. We formed a group of seven people to obtain the status of a registered association (e.V.) and, in this context, implement projects as a non-profit organization.
Stadionwelt: Sie haben auf Ihrer Website Ihre Agenda niedergeschrieben. Darunter auch den Punkt „Sport fordern“ mit den Unterpunkten „Was sind Ziele?“ und „Wo sind Best Cases?“. Wie lauten Stand jetzt die Antworten auf diese beiden Fragen?
Wagner: The goal is for sports to see the climate crisis as an "opportunity" or its own role as an "opportunity." The term "opportunity" is in quotation marks for a reason. If sports do not perceive the issue as a burden or see it defensively, but rather ask themselves, "What impact do we have on society when we, as a sports community, seriously address the issue and set ambitious goals?", then sports can contribute significantly. There are good examples everywhere. A true, comprehensive best case that subjects its actions to a sustainability primacy is rare. But many have set out on that path. A genuine best case would be an entity that is net-zero or even climate-positive and has reduced its emissions based on science-based targets. The Forest Green Rovers are an example of a club that has addressed this issue extensively. Besides, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we see a lot happening. We are in talks with clubs reflecting on their own role. A dynamic has emerged that did not exist a year or two ago.
Stadionwelt: Do you have specific requirements or actions that signatories must fulfill to represent your values? Do you make certain demands that must be met?
Wagner: No, we explicitly do not do that. Initially, it is crucial – and this is the most important thing – to agree on societal frameworks that compel everyone to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement. For that, we need overarching rules, and we advocate for them. Whoever wants to voice their opinion is welcome. It is essential not to feel pressured to have already achieved something. Few can demonstrate 100% compliance because, otherwise, we wouldn't have this problem. Someone who genuinely commits to Sports For Future does not do so to claim something they are not truly convinced of. Those who are already grappling with the question are experiencing further developments. Therefore, the status quo is not important; the question is where I go from there. We are not the authority pointing fingers at anyone and saying, "You didn't do it right, and we expect more." We are the ones trying to gather people and actors who positively commit to this issue. Not more, but especially not less.
Stadionwelt: The concept of a climate-neutral matchday has been increasingly present lately. In your opinion, what is needed to make this achievable in the near future? What might it currently be lacking, and how long do you think it will take until there is, for example, a widespread climate-neutral Bundesliga matchday?
Wagner: I hope that there will not be a climate-neutral matchday in the foreseeable future. Instead, I hope there will be a Bundesliga that commits to climate neutrality – on all matchdays – in the foreseeable future. Ultimately, it comes down to how compensations can help. That is, compensating for the unavoidable part of emissions through projects elsewhere that save CO2. This is currently a viable solution. However, it does not absolve a club of the responsibility to substantially reduce its own carbon footprint. If they wanted to, they could achieve climate neutrality tomorrow. It is also an economic question. But in sports that are well commercialized, the costs are in good proportion to what can be achieved. This is what I meant by the "opportunity" for sports. Becoming aware of the responsibility that hosting an event is associated with a carbon footprint. This responsibility is part of the core business because it arises from the core business.
Stadionwelt: How can you quantify your previous "successes" or "achievements"? In other words, what has "Sports For Future" already accomplished, and what does "Sports For Future" still want to achieve?
Wagner: I would put it this way: I believe that each individual – whether in sports, as a private person, as an entrepreneur, as a politician, or however – has a lever in their hand. Sometimes with less impact, sometimes with more, but everyone faces the question of what they do with their possibilities – or what they refrain from doing. Through our network, we have possibilities, and we try to exploit them as much as possible. We are at a point where we realize significant dynamics emerging. We believe and hope that we contribute to something. How significant our contribution is, is not that important. We – and as many others as possible – should try to bring ideas into the discourse and move as much as possible. If we succeed, that's good, and we're happy about it. But what we don't achieve, we simply haven't achieved.
Stadionwelt: You want to use the connecting power of sports to address the challenges of the climate crisis. How important is the importance of prominent initiators and supporters such as TSG Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen, Fabian Hambüchen, DFB, or Anni Friesinger?
Wagner: This is crucially important. And it also has real significance because it shows that the issue is not a partisan political one. It affects all of us, regardless of where we stand in society. And to convey this, sports is a good vehicle. In this context, it is enormously important that such actors commit to it in this way. But not only the prominent examples are relevant. We also experience it on many other levels. For example, there is a young badminton player who is very committed to the issue and has established contact between us and the German Badminton Association because she felt the topic needed attention. When athletes like her advocate for this cause, it has a strong impact due to personal credibility.
Stadionwelt: You have also launched a campaign called Sport4Trees. Could you say a few words about this and explain what it is about?
Wagner: The campaign originated from the idea we implemented with the climate ticket at TSG Hoffenheim, where ticket buyers can plant a tree for one euro. We try to transport this simple system to all levels, including grassroots sports. For example, with tree piggy banks at the coffee counter during a district league match. Either you throw your change into the box or put it back in your wallet. Regardless of your decision, there is a brief exchange, a short encounter with the topic. Not with a raised index finger but rather positively and with low barriers. The campaign has prominent supporters like TSG Hoffenheim or FC Bayern München. Currently, we support reforestation or forest conservation projects in five countries. Of course, we know that reforestation and planting trees alone will not save the climate, but it makes a positive contribution and provides a simple, understandable entry point that invites people to get involved and engage more with the climate crisis.
(Stadionwelt, April 26, 2021)