Socially Responsible Sport as a Catalyst of Conservation

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Prof. (Dr) Colin Coulson-Thomas

By Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

World Conservation Day reminds us of of the fragility of our natural environment, much of which is under threat from human activities, whether directly as a result of the deforestation and exploitation caused by relentless development or indirectly as a result of the impact of climate change and the global warming that is a consequence of it. Much needs to be done to protect precious natural environments and habitats and reduce the loss of biodiversity and natural capital.

Limiting Environmental Damage

Each year World Conservation Day prompts the question of what each of us is doing and could or should do to help us transition to more sustainable activities, practices and lifestyles. What steps can we take to interact more sustainably with nature? What can be done to encourage more people to actively participate in activities to protect, conserve and sustainably manage our natural resources?

When aggregated many of our personal consumption patterns cause considerable environmental damage. As concerns grow about the adverse environmental consequences of our industrial and disposable society, whether mountains of rubbish or climate change, will more consumers and investors change their aspirations, expectations and requirements? Are there routes to more sustainable and fulfilling lives in greater harmony with the natural world?

Environmental issues are not new. In Roman times manufacturing and processing activities had a negative  impact on the environment. More recent practices such as built in obsolescence could be reduced if we reduced our consumption of manufactured goods that consume greater amounts of natural capital put more emphasis upon different and more satisfying activities.

Adopting More Sustainable Activities

Compared with many other sectors sporting activities have a limited environmental impact. They tend to build health, comradeship and physical prowess rather than consume natural resources. If the emphasis switched from polluting activities and the consumption of manufactured goods to participating in, sharing and enjoying sport, it could lead to simpler, more active, healthier and more inclusive and sustainable lifestyles.

Sport and keep fit activities and creative endeavours, can all reflect changing values, concerns and aspirations. They can create opportunities for those who might otherwise be marginalised or redundant to participate, offer one-to-one personal services, engage in communal activities and experience a higher quality of life. More active lifestyles can improve mental and physical health.

In an age of global brands, more people may want to find ways of being true to themselves and what is unique, special or different about them. We are not categories, statistics or trends but individual human beings with distinct interests and preferences. There are such a wide range of sports that most people should be able to find one or more that they can relate to. We can become active participants rather than passive recipients of other people’s messages.

How we use our skills, tools and technologies and for what purpose determines the extent to which they help or harm us. Consumer behaviour may change as more people become aware of the consequences of their purchasing decisions. Sport can be participative, but also observed and enjoyed by others. It can have a multiplier effect. Its externalities can be positive. Sport enriches lives. It can overcome the urban-rural divide and boundaries of social class and creed.

Reconnecting with the Natural World

More people are seeking refuge in virtual worlds. What can we do to involve them in the real and natural world? Advances in connectivity have boosted digital interaction and social networking. How might we restore and build physical and community interaction? Sport and sporting activity can help people to physically interact, reconnect with nature and support conservation.

Many sports require and involve direct contact with the natural world. Marathon running and cycling can take people out into the countryside. Aquatic sports include canoeing, diving, rowing and swimming. Sailing involves interaction with natural forces such as currents, tides and the wind. Winter sports depend upon the seasons and require slopes and snow.

Sporting activities can reconnect us to the natural world. They can inspire, motivate and develop inner strength. Team sports develop social skills. People can express themselves, collaborate and discover how the whole can be more than the sum of the parts. They can learn to respect themselves and appreciate the roles and contributions of others. Barriers to entry to some sports are low, while for others a basic infrastructure exists and could be developed with will and collective support.

Inclusion and Participation

Sport can address a range of social issues. Participation in sporting activities can represent an alternative to boredom, feelings of inadequacy, delinquency, drug taking and crime. Different sports offer scope for philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. They can represent a cause and a collective endeavour for teams, supporters and local communities.

Successful sportsmen and women can represent healthy role models. In sport, cheating and doping are discouraged. Umpires, referees and officials endeavour to ensure that certain norms of behaviour are observed, there is mutual respect between participants, the rules of the sport are obeyed and that competition is fair.

Sport can break down many barriers. It can embrace groups who have in the past been excluded or sidelined. It can provide ladders of advancement for those who do not excel academically. People can often go as far as their will, commitment and talent will take them. Success in the paralympics could be the ultimate ambition of the disabled athelete.

Bridges of Sports

Sport has the potential to reach all groups in society, whether as participants or as supporters. Sport should be for all and not just a few. Nitish Chiniwar, the founder of Bridges of Sports, is keen to reach beyond urban areas and create participation opportunities for the rural poor, overlooked communities and the disabled.  He is keen to ensure that sport’s potential for greater inclusion embraces those who are or could be at a disadvantage and reaches hitherto excluded groups.

Bridges of Sports is a non-profit organisation that is working towards creating a sustainable sports ecosystem in India. It catalyses the identification and nurturing of grass-roots athletes by developing and deploying coaches in schools, catering especially to socially and economically backward communities. Participants in its fellowship programme are already at work in schools coaching children in a range of sports.

Greater involvement in sport could help the transition to a more sustainable, stable and post-industrial society where there is less pressure upon the environment and the impacts of digital and disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics create more time for activities other than work. It could improve the well being of the present and future generations and reconnect healthier people to a healthier environment.

Further information on Bridges of Sports can be obtained from https://www.bridgesofsports.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/BridgesofSports/

Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas regularly provides theme papers for international conferences concerned with sustainability and the environment. He leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Director-General, UK and Europe, IOD India, Honorary Professor at the Aston-India Centre for Applied Research, a Distinguished Professor at the Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research and a member of the advisory board of Bridges of Sports.

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