Engaging professional athletes & fans in the fight against climate change: the case of skiing

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Engaging professional athletes & fans in the fight against climate change: the case of skiing
July 13, 2018
By
Michael Pedersen

When professional athletes speak, fans listen. Unlike leaders from business, government, and civil society, who are facing unprecedentedly low levels of trust, professional athletes are uniquely placed to influence a large number of citizens around the world positively. And even so across traditional societal dividing lines. That is not least the case in terms of motivating behavioral change in support of the fight against catastrophic climate change, the most pressing challenge of our time. Although admirable climate change related work is being carried out by some sports organizations, it has been minimal, focused on minimizing environmental footprints rather than encouraging a behavioral change of sports fans and largely uncoordinated across sports and countries. Accordingly, there is great and unleashed the potential in utilizing the unique power of professional athletes to boost the fight against catastrophic climate change.

Among other activities, I have the privilege of leading a global project, focused on doing exactly that. Under the umbrella of Global Crisis Information Network Inc., the project seeks to build a common platform for encouraging sports fans to adopt environmentally responsible behavior in support of fighting catastrophic climate change. Across sports and countries, inside and outside the stadium, through the development and dissemination of common guidelines for sport event organizers, with a particular focus on developing mechanisms for enlisting professional athletes to take prominent advocacy roles. In the context of the project, a series of the pilot project is currently being carried out in different sports and at different sports events around the world. The first of these pilot project was carried out in collaboration with Protect Our Winters (POW) Finland in the context of the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland in February 2017. This brief article offers some of the key insights from the pilot project in skiing.

Freerider, skiing, Up-Free. Photo Credits: Pixabay.com

Photo Credits: Pixabay.com

The 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland took place from 22 February 2017 to 5 March 2017. The Championships brought together 700 professional athletes from 60 countries in 21 competitions. 250,000 fans went to the Championships along with 2,000 volunteers. 600 million fans watched the Championships on TV. In the context of the pilot project, professional skiers participating in the Championships were offered an opportunity to give video statements to their fans. These statements were focused on why it is important to care about climate change and how we all easily can help fighting climate change in terms of changing specific behaviors. Subsequently, random fans at the Championships were asked to view a 45-second edited video with statements from a selection of professional skiers and fill in a short questionnaire to measure what they thought of it.

The pilot project generated two main findings:

         Professional athletes in skiing are able and willing to give powerful video statements to their fans about climate change – across nationality, gender, and disciplines

         Fans are very receptive to climate change statements from professional athletes in skiing – across age, gender, nationality, and whether they ski themselves or not.

As for the latter, it was particularly noteworthy that fans self-assessed that they felt much more motivated to change some of their behavior in support of the fight against climate change after having watched the 45-second edited video with statements from a selection of professional skiers (8.12 on average on a scale from 1-10).

Despite the very high average, the test data also indicated demographic variations in fan motivations to change behavior:

         31-40-year-old fans were the most motivated to change behavior (8.40 on average), whereas 21-30-year-old fans were the least motivated to change behavior (7.83 on average).

         Female fans were more motivated to change behavior (8.32 on average) than male fans (7.83 on average).

         Fans of other nationalities than Finnish were slightly more motivated to change behavior (8.16 on average) than fans of Finnish nationality (7.83 on average).

         Fans skiing themselves were slightly more motivated to change behavior (8.14 on average) than fans not skiing themselves (8.00 on average).

Throughout 2018, a total of 3-5 additional pilot projects are expected to be carried out. These pilot projects will be designed on the basis of valuable experience and insights gained through the pilot project at 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Finland intending to develop a further and fine-tuning methodology. The pilot projects will take place in very different sports at different sport events around the world. Among other aspects, they will also explore the potential integration of a commitment to a Citizens’ Climate Pledge, which will enable professional athletes and their fans to commit to reducing their climate footprint by 50% in 10 years.

About the author

Michael Pedersen, founder of M INC. > change the game

Michael Pedersen, founder of M INC. > change the game, is an internationally recognized sports governance expert. Michael leads a global project to engage professional athletes and their fans in the fight against climate change and also devotes a substantial part of his time to supporting sport for development related activities.

Banner and thumbnail photo credits to Pixabay.com