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Brian McCullough, Associate Professor of Sport Management - Texas A&M University (Interview)

An excerpt from the interview of Brian McCullough - He has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, has authored "Introduction to Environmental Sport Management", and has co-edited "Routledge Handbook of Sport and the Environment". He contributed to the formation of the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework and is currently working with the International Olympic Committee, Commonwealth Secretariat Sport for Development and Peace Program to better evaluate Sustainable Development Goals within the sports sector.

Q) The US is going to host the FIFA World Cup in 2026. It's going to be larger than ever, with 48 teams participating for the first time. Such a large tournament will definitely have a massive impact on environmental sustainability. What do you think could be done leading up to an event of that scale to reduce the impact?


A) No matter what we do, in our day-to-day lives, we're going to have an environmental impact. We want to try to minimize and mitigate as much as we possibly can, but there are some things that are unavoidable. So, if we want everybody to sit on their couch for the rest of their lives, people are not going to do that. It's unrealistic. So, we have to be realistic, because people will travel to see their team play, especially in the World Cup. It's an unavoidable thing. But there's a lot of research we can do about different things regarding that.


What's interesting about this model is that it is spread throughout the three primary countries in North America. There, it's a built environment. So, we're using existing facilities. These facilities are going to be used, we don't have an instance of the facilities like after the Beijing Summer Games, or the Greece Summer Games. They're in major metropolitan areas, that's another great thing. But they are spread out, and the tough thing in some ways, too, is that you don't necessarily know the field until closer to the event itself. So, we can plan as much as possible, but that’s on the operational side. These mega-events, not just the World Cup, but also the Olympic Games, and other smaller yet mega-events don't necessarily focus too much on the environmental impact of all aspects that come into the production of the game, they focus more or less within their backyard. But there is more consideration for fan travel and where they're coming from. So, we can anticipate as much as we can, and project different ways of going about things, to see what that environmental impact and the carbon footprint will be. But again, we can try to minimize as best as we can and that's what I think we should do.


We're not going to tell people that travel halfway around the world, “Stay home, don't watch your team, we're going to be broadcasting it. It's the same experience.” I've gone to even just a friendly between Ecuador and the United States here in Seattle, and the environment was unbelievable. When you go to some foreign countries to watch games, as an American, even being involved with some really intense fans, the intensity increases dramatically where it gets kind of scary on how dedicated they are.


We hosted the USA Special Olympic Games here in Seattle last summer. We helped them with their sustainability initiatives. What they really did is, show people like, “Look, you can land at the airport, and you can take the train from the airport to the city, it drops you off by the major hotels here.” You can design the campaigns and have them ready to launch but you’ve got to wait to see what fan bases are coming in, and how do we actually communicate that to them. So that's sometimes the bigger investment and a challenge, but it's doable. We just had a research grant looking at the LA 2028 Summer Games, and the initiatives that they're launching, and they're consistent with what Los Angeles is trying to achieve. We want to engage sports fans in that. So, we helped the games at the initial stage to leverage and prioritize certain initiatives over others because of what would be received better.

 

To watch the complete interview, please click here

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