PSF Insights: ESG & Sport

By Aryan Chibber, Senior Analyst


Whether it’s the Superbowl, Cricket World Cup, or even the Grand Prix, spectator sports are clearly a pervasive force in society—not only do they boost economic growth and employment, but cultivate an immersive form of entertainment within society, and hold cultural significance. Given its crucial role in benefitting economies, entertainment, and the cultural facets of society, therefore, it would be imperative for spectator sport to inculcate tenets of environmental sustainability, champion social change, and adopt strong governance practices within its fabric. In the real world though, to what extent do spectator sports adhere to ESG frameworks? This inquiry aims to delve into the current reality but also potential outcomes of ESG integration in spectator sports.

In the contemporary world, industries and firms have become increasingly cognisant of the need to conduct environmentally sustainable practices. Sporting organisations are no exception to this. For instance, by using green energy powered by Ecotricity and solar panels, organic and sustainable grass pitches, EV charging points at its stadium, and the use of rainwater to irrigate the pitch, Forest Green Rovers has proved itself to be the most sustainable football club globally. Compared to other clubs, namely, Chelsea, Fulham, and West Ham, who are at risk of flooding at their stadiums during numerous periods of the year due to their poor sustainability characteristics, the Rovers have been at the forefront of amalgamating ESG with sport.

Developing Context

In terms of social causes, numerous sporting leagues as a whole strive to actively disseminate discourse on social problems and injustices, using their large-scale viewership levels as a platform to tackle such issues. The U.S. Women’s National Football Team, for example, has fought for gender equity, vocalising the disparities in pay between male and female athletes, and has advocated for equal pay. In addition, the Paralympic Games, which are held in sync with the Olympic Games, trailblaze the inclusivity of disabilities in sport, and celebrate athletes with disabilities. Moreover, FIFA, the international governing body of football, has maintained a focal point on anti-racism and human rights protection, as part of its social responsibility. By committing to diversity and anti-discrimination through a five-pillar strategy encompassing education, regulations, sanctions, networking, and communications, FIFA has utilised football’s global platform to promote societal change.

Governance-wise, much is being done by sporting organisations to ensure that transparency and integrity are being maintained. UK Sport and Sport England have established a Code for Sports Governance that keeps transparency, accountability, and financial integrity as a prerequisite for leagues and organisations to receive public funding. Additionally, the European Olympic Committees developed the SIGGS tool to evaluate governance in sport, and gauge where change is required. To combat corruption and ensure that event hosting venues are decided through fair selection processes, the International Partnership Against Corruption in Sport was initiated in 2017.

It is clear that upon examining these examples of sporting leagues and teams and their alignment with ESG values that sport has integrated certain facets of ESG within its framework. However, there is a lot of room for improvement and further progress.

Making Progress

For example, in the Premier League, numerous teams, such as Aston Villa, Everton, and West Ham, alongside many others, the advertising of gambling is rife. This challenges the public health of society, as when addictive activities such as gambling are advertised, millions are promoted to engage in behaviour which spurs socially and individually detrimental outcomes. The same lies with the advertising of Heineken in Formula 1, where alcohol consumption is promoted. Sport often provides a platform that augments activities that make society and its individuals vulnerable—something not compliant with the social aspect of ESG. By altering the level of advertising in sport as a whole with stricter regulations and policies, the impact to public health can be mitigated.

Furthermore, on a sustainability front, more changes can be made on a larger-scale. According to estimates, major sporting events can generate approximately 750,000 plastic bottles. Moreover, more than 25% of sporting fans in the US, Germany, and Australia, and over 33% of sporting fans in the UK believe that sporting organisations are not doing much in terms of environmental sustainability. The UK environmental Agency highlights that the sports industry must introduce water refill stations, minimise plastic usage in food packaging, and place recycling bins throughout venues. In 2021, Hannah Amor, a project lead at the UK Environment Agency said that “the sports industry is in the unique position of being able to influence millions of people worldwide by leading the way in sustainability and setting a good example.”

Outlook for the Future

Change is imminent. By 2025, around 50,000 companies, including the world’s largest sports organisations will be subject to reporting their sustainability, in line with the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). Such mandatory requirements will force sports organisations to follow tenets of ESG sooner than anticipated.

Whilst progress has been made, there is a long way ahead—sport must further adopt ESG-compliant practices, moving ahead with a large-scale paradigm shift. Data derived by Dassault Systemes in 2022 showcased that customer demand accounts for 48% of the motivation behind organisations engaging in environmentally sustainable practices. Ultimately, the power lies in consumers—increased discourse leads to increased change.


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What sport can learn from ESG – The Sustainability Report

Why we need to make sport more sustainable - Forbes

Achieving Social Justice in Sports: Breaking Barriers & Inspiring Change

Infantino: FIFA embraces its responsibility to lead the fight against discrimination

Good Sports Governance

Sports industry urged to kick plastics out of sport - GOV.UK

Formula 1 and Heineken extend Global Partnership in multi-year deal

Betting brands dominate Premier League shirt sponsorship market despite ban - Sportcal