Andy Fuller

As the COP26 climate summit closes sport has played a more prominent role than ever before. The impact of climate change on sport was laid bare - from grassroots through to global events. It was clear however, that sport is not just a victim of climate change, it is a contributor, and how sport contributes in the future will play a key part in addressing the global challenge.

Since it was announced that the historic Legion Field will play host to flag football’s World Games debut, the football world has had one eye on Birmingham, Alabama next July. However, it won’t just be on the field where history will be made. The city will also play host to the International Federation of American Football’s (IFAF) first climate-positive Annual Congress.

In mid-2021 IFAF launched its Sustainability Vision: a vision which sets out the federation’s desire to uphold the five principles of the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework and its commitment to address a series of the Sustainable Development Goals identified in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It recognises that IFAF has a clear objective to balance the social, economic and environmental impact of the sport of American football.

As global leaders gathered in Glasgow at the start of COP26, IFAF announced its first steps in translating the vision into action with a ground-breaking partnership signed with the Play It Green organisation and a commitment to delivering the landmark Congress in Alabama.

IFAF launched its Sustainability Vision earlier this year ©IFAF
IFAF launched its Sustainability Vision earlier this year ©IFAF

Identifying a climate-positive Congress as an initial target provides a tangible goal that enfranchises the entire membership. This, and activities similar to this, will be critical in keeping the wider agenda moving forward as considerable work needs to be undertaken to fully understand what sustainability looks like within the context of current IFAF activity, what it could look like and how we can get there.

That is where the partnership with Play It Green is critical. IFAF and its members will have access to sector expertise to support the creation of a clear plan to meet the vision.

Starting with the IFAF Flag Football World Championships in Israel this December and the IFAF World Championships (W-Tackle) in Finland next summer, IFAF will start a review process which will build a picture of the impact of our events and inform future planning for our global and continental events - from event management, sustainable travel policies, the selection and use of recyclable materials to the effective use of facilities, as well as an education programme for members to support planning and delivery on a domestic level.  

The review won’t just focus upon the environmental impact of events. IFAF will also look at how its events and activities can be used as a vehicle for supporting a number of the Sustainable Development Goals, from encouraging inclusive and equitable education to supporting people leading healthy lifestyles and promoting wellbeing.

IFAF is to review the environmental impact of its events and has committed to staging its first climate-positive Annual Congress ©IFAF
IFAF is to review the environmental impact of its events and has committed to staging its first climate-positive Annual Congress ©IFAF

This will involve cross-cutting work across IFAF’s committees, including the Development and Sport for All Committee to the new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. These Committees are all too aware of the need to raise awareness, find solutions and build in resilience to deliver. This work will be coordinated by a new Sustainability Committee, led by the federation’s vice-resident, which is committed to producing an annual report on the progress IFAF and its members are making.

In addressing the COP26 summit, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson drew upon a sporting analogy to highlight the stark situation the world faces. "Humanity as a whole is about 5-1 down at half-time," he said. To use American football parlance, there is no Hail Mary pass which will lead to IFAF quickly identifying and addressing all its issues in becoming a more sustainable organisation and delivering more sustainable activities. Instead we will be seeking to make steady progress up the field, one down at a time.