The link between climate and sport explained by Paralympic champion Tatyana McFadden

Tatyana McFadden is considered the fastest woman in the world. She competed six times at the US Paralympics and was a Paralympic medalist twenty times. She has won 23 major world marathons and broken five athletics world records.

Ms. McFadden was born with spina bifida and spent the first few years of her life in an orphanage in Russia, with little or no access to basic services, or even a wheelchair, before being adopted by her mother, Deborah, who brought her back to Maryland. , USA

Two decades later, he still remembers what it was like to live in those conditions. These memories of her are at the center of her fight for disability rights and have helped raise awareness of the need to have a voice on critical issues like climate change.

“I lived a life without adequate food or clean water, sometimes without heating or electricity, things that I don’t take for granted today. Fortunately, I was adopted at the age of six by a wonderful American family and I no longer have to live like this. But with climate change, many people living in developing countries are experiencing this,” she said. UN News.

Ms McFadden says she has spoken about this fight with her fellow Paralympians from countries particularly affected by climate change.

“There is no doubt that climate change is a major global challenge that has a real impact on all people. But it actually has a disproportionate impact on the disabled population,” he explains.

Tatiana Mcfadden

American Paralympic athlete Tatyana Mcfadden during a medal ceremony at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

the heat is rising

In the case of sports, athletes feel the heat rise during their events. Tokyo 2020 was an example of this, with record heat and humidity making headlines around the world and posing a danger to participants.

“It is directly related to hydration. As athletes, we must stay very hydrated. Having a disability, being paralyzed from the waist down creates circulation problems and for us, hydration is already very difficult. You can get heat stroke and die because you don’t hydrate enough,” he explains.

Nutrition is another important factor for competitors, which can be challenging for some athletes in some countries.

Ms. McFadden learned that at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans were having to deliver food, medical care and equipment to South African Paralympians with vulnerable conditions.

” It’s a [défi] really important that we are facing, not only because of Covid but also because of the climate crisis. It moves me personally because as an elite athlete, hydration and nutrition are so important not only for performance but for overall health, and seeing my own Paralympic athletes not having that is very difficult,” says McFadden.

“That’s why we have to be part of this discussion, because they are my competitors. Many were unable to go to Tokyo, for example, because they were experiencing situations like these, ”she notes.

A problem for the entire sports sector

According to a recent guidance note from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the sports sector is experiencing the consequences of rising temperatures, increased precipitation and more extreme weather events.

A recent study cited in the report showed that in a warming world, half of the former Winter Olympics host cities will likely be unable to host winter games by 2050 due to lack of snow and ice.

In 2018, high temperatures forced the organizers of the US Open tennis tournament to offer athletes a “heat break”. At the 2020 Australian Open, poor air quality caused by bushfires forced some tennis players to withdraw from the tournament.

By 2050, almost a quarter of the stadiums in the English football league (23 out of 92) are expected to be partially or completely flooded each year.

These examples are only for high-profile sporting events, says DESA. The impact on smaller, more local events is potentially much greater.

From youth leagues to college teams, millions of athletes have already faced some weather disruptions, and these will only get worse over time.

Everyone’s voice is needed

Of course, the interruption of sporting events might seem like a minor problem in a context of food, energy and water insecurity that will force millions of people to migrate as climate impacts accelerate in the coming decades.

“But the scale of the crisis requires solutions to come from all sectors, from all nations, from all voices with an idea. And it turns out that athletes are up to the challenge and their contributions can make a difference,” explains DESA’s briefing note.

The fact is that the world of sport is in a unique position to show leadership on climate action and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“It is a personal question for me. We want to change things and how can athletes like me do that? First, we have to talk about it. So you have to work with the sponsors. They have such a large external audience that it’s up to us to talk to them about the importance of carbon footprinting and the meaning of zero carbon emissions… We also have to commend the sponsors who do the work and make the big changes,” says Tatiana. McFadden.


Brad Snyder, American Paralympic athlete

citi/ madumont

Brad Snyder, American Paralympic athlete

The role of sport

Sporting events also contribute to global warming. According to a report by the Rapid Transition Alliance, the global sports sector produces as many emissions as an average-sized country, thanks to its carbon footprint linked to transport, construction, sports facilities and sports equipment supply chains.

For example, the 2016 Rio Olympics were estimated to have produced 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, while the 2018 Russia World Cup produced 2.16 million tons.

These types of assessments could underestimate the cost of climate change, since they do not take into account the impact of the construction of new stadiums, the water and energy consumed to support the events and the waste of food, plastics and other products during the demonstrations. .

However, steps are being taken to reduce the carbon footprint of sporting events. For example, the International Olympic Committee aims, by 2030, to go beyond carbon neutrality and ensure that the games are carbon neutral.

Athletes like Ms. McFadden have also started speaking out on this issue: last year at the COP26 climate change summit, more than 50 Tokyo 2020 Olympians and Paralympians came together to call on world leaders to take action. ambitious during the summit.

According to DESA, sport can play an important role in educating and raising awareness about global warming and, more generally, environmental problems, in particular by promoting a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.


Kaede Maegawa represents Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

kaede maegawa

Kaede Maegawa represents Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

In fact, research has shown that fans are receptive to environmental initiatives and participate in environmental footprint reduction efforts not only when attending sporting events, but also in their daily behavior and as advocates for their local communities.

Therefore, targeted environmental sustainability campaigns can be essential in this process.

In fact, athletes and teams can serve as role models for their fans by using their social status to raise awareness among individuals and communities about climate change and inspire them to change their way of life for the good of the planet.

Ms. McFadden also helped launch the WeThe15 campaign during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which aims to shine a light on the 15% of people with disabilities around the world and address barriers and discrimination.

“I see my future as an opportunity to make a difference and help increase the number of people with disabilities who have a well-deserved place at the negotiating table, ensuring that we are part of the climate change discussion and doing our part to promote sustainability throughout the world”, expects the elite athlete, who is preparing for Paris 2024, where the Olympic Committee is making a great effort to make this event a sustainable event.

The American Paralympic champion in athletics also participates in the celebration of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, which in 2022 was commemorated at the United Nations with a virtual event with other elite athletes and Olympic athletes, as well as with the main groups including the Qatar 2022 World Cup Organizing Committee and World Rugby.

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