Munich games in tow with sports aim of protecting Mother Earth

There is absolutely nothing like the signage that litters your average Olympics here as they attempt to row in with Munich’s long-term bid to become a ‘Zero Waste City’.
Munich games in tow with sports aim of protecting Mother Earth

ZERO WASTE: Britain's Sasha Pardoe competes in the women's park final during the European Cycling Championships in Munich. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Letter from Munich

Globalised travel has apparently done its unfair share to contribute to the climate crisis but international sport has come a long way when it comes to sustainability. Or maybe it’s just that sport has upped its game when it comes to greenwashing its role as we fret about the apocalypse that is ecological collapse.

Go back just a decade and you could ring up a sporting body before a major event and source a mountain of facts and figures about how many protein bars or kit bags they were carting off to the other side of the world. The 2011 Rugby World Cup, when the 20 teams involved landed in New Zealand with an estimated 76 tonnes of cargo, comes to mind.

And that didn’t include a single tighthead.

Now it's all reduce this, offset that. Or so we’re told. The sheer weight and expanse of tents, vehicles, cables and other paraphernalia at any elite golf tournament would easily feed, house and light a small city - and all that for four days and 72 holes before everything is mounted on trucks and coughed down the road again and again and again.

The R&A made great play about handing out 5,000 free stainless steel water bottles at the 2019 Open Championship in Portrush in an attempt to limit the proliferation of single-use plastic among its 172,000 patrons that week but excuse us for dismissing this as a mere drop in an ever-more polluted ocean.

You couldn’t imagine the Great Pacific Garbage Patch quaking in its boots.

Sport has been recognised by no less august a bunch than the United Nations as an important “enabler” in achieving the goals for it’s ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. Which is hard to square with a culture that sees a ‘domestic’ rugby league like the URC that spans six countries and two continents as perfectly normal.

Sustainability is the last word that would come to you when considering the white elephants built in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Or when trying to get your head around the green light given to Qatar to host this year’s World Cup. Eight massive stadiums within one 55-kilometre radius of each other? In a desert? Really?

And so (finally) to Munich.

Athletics have already given notice of their intention to quit these multi-sport European Championships in four years’ time, and swimming’s intentions are unclear for the next edition in 2026, but Munich and the concept itself have gone to some lengths in reducing their impact on Mother Earth than most of these gigs.

The majority of venues in use here have their origins in the 1972 Olympic Games and if the cracked concrete and rewilding of certain stands and pathways is one consequence of that then it is a small enough price to pay when set against the indefensible waste that comes with the gleaming sports palaces built and left behind elsewhere.

Konigsplatz in the city centre is the home for temporary structures that are hosting beach volleyball and sport climbing while the Messe conference centre in the eastern suburbs is housing the temporary cycling track, but there is a commitment that these venues and any materials or equipment required will be re-used.

It’s obviously impossible to avoid the increased carbon footprint that comes with these things. The city is expecting an estimated one million visitors and 130,000 overnight stays. It has mobilised 6,000 visitors and kitted them out in a teal uniform that sparks flashbacks to the changed strip Barcelona wore a few years back.

The organisers’ response to this has been to prioritise short distances and venues with existing public transport options. Any greenhouse gas emissions are being countered by supporting carbon offset projects and visitors have been asked to make climate contributions that will support an afforestation project in Nicaragua.

It should go without saying that waste from packaging, catering, banners and the like are being kept to a minimum. There is absolutely nothing like the signage that litters your average Olympics here as they attempt to row in with Munich’s long-term bid to become a ‘Zero Waste City’.

Maybe none of this amounts to a hill of ecobeans when there are almost 5,000 athletes converging on the city from 50 different countries, all with their supporting staff, hundreds of thousands of supporters and spectators, media and cargo in tow. Maybe, but sport is playing catch-up here and none of this can hurt.

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