Story | 27 Mar, 2024

Athletes call for urgent action to protect nature; Kenya’s National Olympic Committee joins Sports for Nature

World renowned athletes and sports organisations joined forces last week with the Governments of France and Kenya to host the first Sports for Nature event in Africa.

The dialogue, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), together with the Governments of France and Kenya and the Sports for Nature partners, explored how sports and governments can up their game to protect the environment that sports depend on.  

“Without nature, sport has nothing to play on. Whether it is the snow on the slopes, the water in the rivers or the clean air in our cities, sport relies on a healthy planet. But right now, nature is not being given a chance to win,” said Ms Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystem Division. 

“That’s why we think that Sports for Nature is critical to tap sports’ enormous potential to support the achievement of the UN’s biodiversity and restoration goals.” 

Launched in late 2022, the Sports for Nature Framework brings together sports organisations from all levels - local clubs to global sport federations – that are committed to taking measurable action for nature under its four principles: protect nature, restore nature, green supply chains, and educate and inspire others to act for nature.

Ms Tegla Loroupe, the first African women to hold the marathon World Record and founder of The Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, said that increasing climate change and nature loss were directly affecting the performance of athletes in the region. “I can surely confirm that it is unbearable here and we need to take urgent action,” Ms Loroupe said.  “A healthy planet is key to peaceful competitions and conservation.”

Mr Paul K. Tergat, President of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, also spoke about the growing threat to Kenya’s forests and urban biodiversity, which athletes depend on to practice and compete. “The trails we use can’t be exchanged with anything else,” he said. “Everything we do is intertwined or connected to nature.”

During the event on 20 March, the National Olympic Committee of Kenya became the 56th signatory,  and first from Africa, to join the Sports for Nature Framework. Other signatories, including Paris 2024 and World Rugby, also shared how they are advancing their sustainability efforts.

With the Paris 2024 Olympic Games just months away, and the Africa Cup of Nations in Kenya in 2027, the governments highlighted the challenges and opportunities for major sporting events to leave a sustainable legacy for sports and the host cities.

HE Samuel Ducroquet, Ambassdor for Sports for the French Foreign Ministry, said: “We as organisers – hosts of the Rugby World Cup last year and the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year - are determined to seize this opportunity to set up new criteria and new benchmarks.  But sports have a global responsibility and all stakeholders involved in sports have a role to play.”

“The Sports for Nature initiative offers training and tools to sports that want to advance their nature journey,” said Mr Innocent Kabenga, IUCN’s Regional Head for Land Systems and Country Representative for Kenya. “We hope sports teams – whatever your size – will join us and that the governments here and around the world will support sports in their mission to safeguard the environment,” he added.

Sports for Nature is an initiative by IUCN, the International Olympic Committee, UNEP, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Sails of Change.

To watch the launch event, visit Sports for Nature: Introducing A New Plan of Action | UN Web TV

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