Sochi, Russian Federation, 01 November 2013.

I have been to nine of the ten editions of the World Conference on Sport and Environment, dating back to the original event in Lausanne in July 1995 (I only missed the second conference in Kuwait City in 1997).

They have always been grand events with a lot of formal ceremony and UN-style closing declarations.  In terms of content they have covered a wide range of topics from detailed presentations by Olympic Host Cities and Organising Committees to small scale, grassroots projects in developing countries.  As conference they were not game changers but I always found them good for meeting with other sustainability specialists involved in sport, and over the years the themes of the conference have followed the emerging trends in Olympic sustainability.

This latest edition in Sochi, Russian Federation, was no different.  Yet there was also a sense that this could be the last one, certainly in its traditional title and format.  For a start the new IOC President, Thomas Bach, is reviewing all the IOC’s structures and activities and from his opening address it is clear he is interested in a more integrated sustainability approach, rather than looking at environmental issues in isolation.

Perhaps more revealingly no time and place for the next conference was mooted; only a vague reference to, “in four years’ time”, double the usual.  So the big set piece conference has been kicked into the long grass and maybe the thinking is that it would be more effective in future to have sustainability presentations and sessions within major sports conferences, instead of a separate Sport and Environment, or Sport and Sustainability event.  It would certainly be cheaper and almost certainly better targeted.

If this truly is the 10th and last edition – at least for a good while – it is worth having a look at the final conference resolution; the Sochi Declaration of 1 November 2013.  Two paragraphs stand out, especially given the context of the new IOC President’s review:

“Call on the IOC to further strengthen environmental and wider sustainability requirements in the Olympic Games bidding process, and to ensure these are fully integrated into the systems and structures for organising and hosting of the Games and establishing long-term sustainable legacies. Young people in particular should be engaged throughout these stages. By extension, urge the Olympic Movement to adopt a similar approach for all major sport events.”

“Propose to the IOC to review and strengthen the role of its Sport and Environment Commission with a view to expanding its scope to include sustainability and legacy in their wider context, integrating environmental, social and economic dimensions.”

Details apart, these two proposals indicate the recognition by the Olympic Movement that it has to move beyond simply ‘green’ environmental thinking and to embrace the more holistic sense of sustainability as exemplified by recent host cities of Vancouver and London and the plans of future host cities of Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.  Interesting times ahead.

See also the IOC press release with links to the conference declaration.