The report, to be published in the journal Sport and Society and shared with the BBC, looked at air quality data over the past five years for the month of February - when the games will be held - and found poor to hazardous conditions on as many as 15 days, with an average of 9.5 days.
"I am very concerned about the air quality in Beijing," said the report's co-author Dr Madeleine Orr, assistant professor at the State University of New York.
While the sport sector’s environmental impact is not fully understood, it has a social platform and reach to influence a significant number of people worldwide to choose more sustainable behaviors. Brian McCullough, associate professor of sport management at Texas A&M University, says that sport organizations should be proactive in becoming more sustainable to increase business performance, deepen connections with fans and attract new ones..
Climate scientists say those numbers are going to continue to worsen in the foreseeable future. Maddy Orr, an assistant professor at SUNY Cortland and co-director of the Sport Ecology Group, says sports leagues need to be doing more to prepare for the problems that will come from a changing climate.
"I can unequivocally say that there will be more fires moving forward. All the evidence suggests that it's only going to get worse because things are getting dryer, it's getting hotter, and when you put those factors together you get fire," Orr said.
All of the stakeholders are hopeful that the landmark partnership can help to “change mindsets” in this area, but much will depend on how the messages are crafted and communicated to the various stakeholder groups. A study conducted by Tim Kellison and Beth Cianfrone of Georgia State University discovered that while fans who identify themselves as environmentalists wear their team’s eco-credentials as a source of pride, those on the opposite end of the scale can become hostile to efforts.
"What if Covid-19 is just the tip of the iceberg? While it currently dominates societal discourse, many experts remain steadfast in their view that climate change will cause far more disruption and claim many more lives than the virus.
The question for sport is clear: if climate change progresses at the rate that’s expected, will competitions and leagues be impacted in a similar way to the pandemic? And if so, what can sports organisations do to mitigate that risk so a similar shutdown needn’t occur?"
While Ball’s aluminum cup is a significant step towards sustainability, whether or not the cups are recycled is up to consumers and the venue, Walker Ross, assistant professor of sport business management at Florida Southern College, said.
“Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, that means if they’re going to be recycling properly, it will drastically decrease the impact on the environment,” Ross said. “You can have a good intention and put the cup in the recycle bin, but what happens after it gets picked up, that’s anybody’s guess.”
“The Super Bowl is a unique beast,” Orr said. “The Super Bowl is fantastic in a way that the other events aren’t. And I think it’s interesting, especially this year, because this marks the 100th anniversary of the NFL, so for them to be bringing in international students this year, it’s new, for students to be working on the sustainability campaign, that’s new, so there’s really lots of interesting initiatives going on, and it’s exciting to be part of it and to bring the students to be part of it, as well.”
There are other motivations for NFL teams to go green: “These owners are competitive, just like their sports teams,” Kellison says. “Something like having the greenest stadium in the world is a nice feather in the cap of an organization or an owner.” And while some owners are also genuinely altruistic, Kellison continues, “we can’t discount the business sense that it makes.”
"Sustainability in the sport sector is similar to the talented young rookie with bags of potential, but with very little delivery. As a sector, we discuss sustainability as though we’re already performing at a high level. Like we’re out there changing the world, leading the charge. The reality is we’re not."
"Like many brands, sport has the power to influence the public, whether by perpetuating broken social systems or by promoting positive social change. So then, why don’t we expect sport brands to consistently choose positive social change, and amplify the messages of pressing issues of our time, like climate change?"
Sport Ecology Group preparing to ‘spearhead’ sustainability movement
"McCullough argues that the research mined by the Sport Ecology Group should be used in the same way as other pieces of market research that sports organizations conduct, and that data could increase the value of their sophisticated operations."
Sportecology.org: A Platform for Green-Sports Practitioners To Connect with Academic Research
“Academic journal articles are very important but for the most part, nobody reads them except for other academics. The insights in those articles aren’t getting to the people who need them. That is true in the Green-Sports world. We created Sportecology.org to bridge that gap and to become the ‘CliffsNotes’ of sustainable sports."
"the relationship between sport and the natural environment is complex and dynamic, ever-present yet ever-changing, meriting a subdiscipline of its own. What it comes down to, is that sport’s relationship with the natural environment is about more than just recycling and turning off lights"
"Each sport entity is in a position to make sustainability part of the fabric of the organisation to the point where sustainability is the organisational norm and an expected behaviour among employees, participants, fans..."