Earth Day 2024: Special Olympics drive sustainability in Italy and Belgium. SPECIAL OLYMPICS BELGIUM

In celebration of Earth Day 2024, we explore a powerful Special Olympics (SO) sustainability project that is making waves in Belgium and Italy, as reported by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) and reproduced by Insidethegames.

From food and travel to branding and waste, how do Special Olympics sporting events impact the environment? More importantly, what can we do about it? These are the questions that Special Olympics teams in Belgium and Italy have been busy exploring since 2022 when they embarked on the European Union (EU) - funded Special Olympics Environmental Sustainability Impact project.

To develop a way forward, we need a sense of where we are. That's why, following the project kick-off meeting in November 2023, the project teams in Belgium and Italy - led by the SO Europe Foundation - embarked on a period of intensive research. A key aspect of this was to analyse the sustainability challenges and achievements of the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023

These Games, which pursued an ambitious and award-winning green agenda, provided the project team with important lessons that have informed the development of a draft Sport Sustainability Framework (SSF). The framework is now being tested as a proof of concept at various Special Olympics events in Italy and Belgium. 

Action from Special Olympics Belgium in Mechelen on 18 May 2023. SPECIAL OLYMPICS BELGIUM
Action from Special Olympics Belgium in Mechelen on 18 May 2023. SPECIAL OLYMPICS BELGIUM

Colin Kenny, Senior Manager - Projects and Grants of the SO Europe Foundation, emphasises the importance of sustainability for Special Olympics: "It is essential that we are sustainable in everything we do. International sports organisations like Special Olympics need to do more in this area due to their large carbon footprint at international events. We hope that this project will show other international organisations what is possible in sustainability." 

Lisa Ferzetti of Special Olympics Italy echoes this point: "Our world is complex and every problem we face is deeply rooted in other aspects of our society. Climate change affects every aspect of our lives and Special Olympics can't ignore it. Special Olympics has a strong sense of responsibility that sets it apart from other sports organisations and it is important that we use our voice to advocate for the environment." 

After a draft framework document has been tested at Special Olympics events in Belgium and Italy, a final SSF document will be developed with best practices and recommendations. It is hoped that these will eventually be shared across the Special Olympics movement and into the world of sport. 

Special Olympics Belgium, a commitment to sustainability. SPECIAL OLYMPICS BELGIUM
Special Olympics Belgium, a commitment to sustainability. SPECIAL OLYMPICS BELGIUM

Although the project will run until the end of November, Audrey Desclée, who is working on the project at Special Olympics Belgium, has noticed a change in the mindset of her team. "We have started to ask ourselves questions that we didn't ask before when preparing for our events, and this is a very important step. It does not mean that we will not still face a number of challenges, but it does mean that we can work more effectively," she said. 

Earth Day offers a moment to reflect on the beauty and fragility of our planet, the damage done by humans, but also the possibility of a better future. Ferzetti says that Special Olympics Italy's message for Earth Day is simple: "Our focus is to change the perspective on sustainability, as we do on disability, through sport, inviting people not to remain "on the sidelines" but to take an active part in caring for the planet." 

This hopeful, can-do attitude is echoed by Special Olympics Belgium. Desclée concludes, "We can all learn from each other. Every step leads us towards greater respect for our environment and our planet!"