Athletes caring for the planet

The relationship between sport and the climate is tangible.

From hosting venues to carbon footprints, all the way to diets and air quality – a healthy environment is at the very heart of what it means to be an elite athlete.

The theme for this year’s World Environment Day on 5 June is #OnlyOneEarth. Here, Olympics.com profiles a number of top sports stars – including sport climbing’s Janja Garnbret and tennis’ Dominic Thiem – who are readily engaged with the fight to protect and preserve the planet.

Janja Garnbert – Sport climbing

When it comes to sport climbing there are very few feats Janja Garnbert hasn’t conquered.

The 23-year-old is not only a gold medallist from Tokyo 2020 where the sport made its Olympic debut, but also a six-time world champion and three-time European medallist.

The Slovenian’s latest challenge is to combat climate change.

ahead of Beijing 2022, the Slovenian Olympic committee launched a campaign to offset their team’s carbon as they traveled to China. For every kilometre traveled – which was 13,000 – a tree was to be planted.

When Garnbret heard about the initiative she decided to get involved. She posted a picture of herself joining in with the effort on her Instagram and wrote in the caption:

“When I got word that the @Sloveniaolympicteam is planting trees to make up for carbon emissions connected to the travels to the Winter Olympics I wanted to support the cause.”

The climber, who revealed that the campaign closely aligned with intentions to offset her own carbon imprint when traveling to events, contributed to the planting of more than 5,000 trees.

She enjoyed it so much, in fact, that she hopes to make it an annual habit.

Dominic Thiem – Tennis

What more matters to tennis star Dominic Thiem: his US Open Grand Slam title or protecting the environment?

The answer is simple for the Austrian:

“Winning the US Open is obviously something amazing,” 29-year-old Thiem told the Kosmos Sports Summit late last year. “But it’s pretty personal, and you cannot even compare it to protecting the oceans and our environment because as the whole future of the planet depends on it.

“If I can make a little difference there [in raising awareness and bringing about change] that would be a success of a lifetime.”

So, what is the major winner doing to elevate his cause?

Most recently the Thiem announced that he was spearheading the ATP’s plans to join the United Nations’ Sports for Climate Action cause. By making the commitment, the ATP will work towards Net Zero Emissions by 2040.

“Climate change. It’s the single greatest challenge of our time. In tennis we already feel its effects,” said Thiem as part of the announcement.

“Heatwaves, bushfires, floods. Time is running out to protect our planet and our game. It’s up to us to find solutions.”

The announcement, delivered by Thiem is just a small part of his long standing commitment to the environment.

His personal journey to change began with his diet after his one year on the professional tour.

When the season ended, the tennis star made the decision to cut back on meat and fish, not only for his own health but also in acknowledgment of the way intensive farming practices can cause great harm to the climate.

Not long after that, the ex-World No. 3 declared war on plastic. He discovered an organization called ‘4ocean’ which strives to protect the world’s oceans and create a more habitable ecosystem for marine life. In under two years, they have removed four million pounds of rubbish from oceans and coastlines.

After wearing a bracelet in support of the charity, Thiem collaborated with sportswear giant Adidas to create a collection made from up cycled wasted intercepted from coastlines and oceans.

“Sports is a huge stage, the biggest fan base. To take care of the planet to turn things around – the time is now.” Dominic Thiem to the Kosmos Sports Summit

Dominic Thiem

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Ona Carbonell – Artistic swimming

For Spanish artistic swimmer Ona Carbonell, being an athlete and an advocate goes hand-in-hand.

Speaking exclusively to Olympics.com, the two-time Olympic medallist shone light on the importance of living sustainability for the future.

“Sustainability has always been very important to me and luckily I think that the new generations grow up with more awareness of the situation: we only have one planet and we are not taking care of it,” Carbonell said.

“I don’t think people are aware that this has an end and we must reverse the situation and do something dramatic. I’ve always tried to help and give visibility, especially in the sea, because I’m always in the water. I always help collecting plastics.”

When she is not in the pool, Carbonell works as a fashion designer with a particular focus on swimwear. She revealed that one of her latest projects involves a collection using recycled materials from the sea.

Eliza McCartney – Athletics

Counting trees, collecting e-waste, and car pooling are just a handful of things Olympic bronze medallist Eliza McCartney does as a climate activist.

Back in 2018, the pole vaulter from New Zealand found herself increasingly more engaged with the outdoors and decided to switch her major in physiology to a degree in environmental science.

Ever since the Kiwi has fronted several major climate campaigns to encourage those up and down her country to help preserve their environment.

After seeing the way the world adapted to the COVID-19, the New Zealander now believes that same energy should be invested towards tackling climate change:

“It’s been really interesting watching the world’s response to Covid,” she told Stuff NZ. “Because if we can make such rapid change to an immediate threat, then surely we can apply that to a threat that is immediate but where the consequences aren’t as apparent right now.”

And while athletes are by no means perfect when it comes to being an example of how to live positively with the environment in mind, McCartney does think that all small changes are important:

“It’s really tricky because as athletes our job is to go to competitions and compete, but as New Zealanders that often means a lot of air travel,” the Kiwi continued to Stuff.

“Obviously domestically there are options. When a group of us are competing somewhere, carpooling is a great example of how to reduce our carbon footprint. So it’s about continuing to make the small choices along the way to make a difference.”

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