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Saving the game: A clarion call for sports associations to sign onto UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework

Ghanaians love sports, especially, football and if there is anything that unites them, look no further.

It is thus an appropriate tool or channel for national development and addressing existential threats.

Therefore using sports as a tool for environmental sustainability and dealing with climate crisis will go a long way towards saving football, the beautiful game, considered as the passion of Ghana.

With the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and other Ghanaian sporting federations yet to be signatories to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Initiative, it is imperative they join the global campaign to achieve climate goals of halving emissions by 2030 and aiming to achieve net zero by 2040.

There is no doubt that the intense climate crisis will disrupt football activities in the coming years, and steps must be taken now to ensure that its adverse effects are curtailed.

Events that transpired at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium last week where a Ghana Premier League encounter between Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Bofoakwa Tano was halted due to the extreme soggy nature of the pitch is a reminder for football stakeholders to take issues of climate change seriously.

Mr. Isaac Kwabena Danso, Assistant Programmes Director at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stated how the climate change crisis was having devastating impacts on sports in the country, especially football.

He explains that poor conditions of pitches make them more vulnerable to intense flooding, heatwaves, and drought, which often halt football activities because footballers and referees can be at risk of injury or even death.

“The variations in extreme weather, whether partners are rain or heat, thus enormously contribute to the wear and tear of the game, especially when it comes to infrastructure deterioration, which could lead to an unpleasant situation,” he said in an interview.

Repercussions of climate change on local football

Another season of the Ghana Premier League has just ended with numerous matches being rained off.

Players in the Ghana Premier League are often chastised for putting up a poor display of football despite their individual talents, but football fans often forget the kind of adversities these players face, training and playing in tough weather conditions.

Philip Sackey, a player of Ghanaian club Accra Great Olympics, says in an interview with GNA Sports that they are often faced with issues of dehydration and heat exhaustion during training and match days.

He noted that issues of muscle strains and cramps, fatigue, a decrease in endurance, stamina, and decision-making on the field can all be linked to climate-change-related issues, which, according to him, can hinder player development.

“Yes, we (my colleagues and I) do complain about the hot conditions when training and even during matches. Sometimes coming out of the tunnel for warm-up only to meet the scorching sun makes you feel it’s going to be a long and tiring game,” he said.

Even though there are water breaks during Ghana Premier League matches, the defender says it is not enough to ensure a player’s comfort and safety during games and that players of clubs who are considered icons in their communities must play to ensure that the environment is conserved.

“Looking at things from our side of the world, players can take small steps to help sustain the environment in relation to climate change. Players can use their social media platforms to educate their fans and communities about climate change and environmental sustainability.

Sackey believes that players across various divisions can also help conserve water and energy in training facilities, stadiums, and even their homes.

Mr. Danso of the EPA emphasised the point that the dangers that climate change poses to players’ health and even to the spectators; “Climate change could be one of the factors contributing to the drop in football attendance at our various stadia. This is because most of stadia are uncovered, exposing fans to intense heat and they occasionally feel hesitant to attend games because of the high heat.

“I recall a time, during a sporting event at Baba Yara Sports Stadium, when temperatures were reported to be above 34 degrees, so firefighters had shower several students in the stands with water.

“The same is true when it rains a lot, causing disruptions to sporting events. It is obvious that intense flooding and heatwaves are affecting the beauty of the game, and all stakeholders would have to take urgent steps to save the game,” he said.

A call on stakeholders for action

It is pertinent for all sporting stakeholders in Ghana to have a transparent discussion on how to pursue climate change issues and environmental sustainability policies to prevent damage to our sports, particularly football.

From intense heat waves, drought, air pollution, and flooding, football stakeholders, including the GFA, clubs, coaches, administrators, players, and supporters, have roles to play in ensuring that the beauty of the game is not marred.

With the call for the GFA to join the Sports for Climate Change Framework, it will be very important for the local sports body to institute laws mandating clubs to adhere to measures for conserving the environment.

The Ghana League Clubs Association (GHALCA) has already initiated plans to combat climate change with some partnerships with Succa Africa and German-based Sports20.

GHALCA’s plans to bring all clubs across the men’s and women’s divisions together to commence a ‘Green Football League,’ while commendable, need a more nationalistic approach with all sporting federations joining the cause.

Mr. Kudjoe Fiano, Chairman of the GHALCA, stressed in an interview with GNA Sports that clubs needed to play a vital role in reducing the effects of climate change, considering its adverse effect on the game of football.

“This time when there is little rain and whole of Accra is flooded; why is this so? Maybe we are not doing certain things right and the call for us to protect the environment is in the right direction.

“Climate change affects our football clubs. We prepare ourselves to go and play matches, only for the matches to be rained off, then we must wait until the next morning, which comes with a cost. So, we must take steps to conserve the environment, and this includes how we dispose off waste at various stadia.

“We all know the magic and force behind football. We pride ourselves on describing football as the passion for the nation, so how will that passion help us improve the environment? So, this idea of the Green League is fostering the need to contribute to meeting global climate goals,” he said.

Mr. Stefan Wagner, the founder of German-based Sports20, a climate change advocacy group, stated that efforts needed to be stepped up to meet climate change goals.

“When it comes to issues of sustainability, there is a lot of dynamics in the market now, hampering the pursuit of SDG goals.

“We came together and think about what sports can really do for change a lot can be done and this brought us to the idea of Sports20, where we gauge what the future of sports looks like.

“We have created a framework, and this is why we are in Ghana to see how we can implement it together with our partners. This is a long process, but we have to start it, because if we succeed here, it will be a blueprint for others to follow.

Capitalising on environmental sustainability to increase clubs’ revenues 

Clubs across various divisions in Ghana football can take advantage of opportunities that come with environmental conservation to increase their revenue streams.

Despite the poor management structure of many Ghanaian clubs, developing strategies to help conserve the environment should form part of their identities while they cut cost.

Mr. Prince Osisiadan, CEO of Succa Africa, a climate change advocacy group, says they are willing to help Ghanaian clubs maximise revenues in an era where sponsorships have become difficult to come by.

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“We look to prevent any form of environmental damage in communities with every kick on the football field. We all know football is a tool for change, so we want to use football to solve issues of flooding, illegal mining, and other climate change issues.

“We are aware of how clubs are struggling with the cost of operations, so we plan to take some sustainable initiatives that will make them reduce their costs. We want to help clubs reduce their energy, thereby paying less when it comes to consumption.

“This will mean providing them sustainable energy where the cost is cheaper. One key thing about football is the cost of travel for clubs. We are keen on cutting down emissions because of travel and reducing the cost of transportation, and this will also include fans.

“Fans who are major stakeholders in the game will be very key in this project of conserving the environment, and we have to bring them up through the clubs so that they support these initiatives.”

He also added that it was about time clubs and sporting bodies began to make some changes to their sporting infrastructure to make them eco-friendly, like English club Tottenham Hotspur which has resorted to 100% renewable energy at their stadium and training grounds.

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The behavioural change in the disposal of waste at various league centres by supporters plays a vital role in promoting sustainability in our communities while boosting the finances of clubs.

With numerous multi-national companies in Ghana willing to support sustainability projects, the GFA should be able to secure some sponsorships for deserving clubs.

This will provide some form of funding for clubs to pay players well and catered for so that quality of football will soar.

Source: Simon Asare / GNA

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