2019: the year sports changed for good?

24th January 2020

Championing 2019

2019 was an intense year of change for most of us as we watched 17-year-old Greta Thunburg inspire a global population to engage with climate change activism. It’s also been a significant year of progression for the sport industry and its influence in addressing inclusivity, equality and environmental action. In-line with this development, we pledged to work with more 'sports for good' organisations in order to help them to create sustainable societal change, faster.

It was a progressive year for the sports industry as a whole, visibly demonstrating an increased dedication to the UNs Sustainable Development Goals tthrough talent engagement, action, campaigning and rule-changing. 2019 was the year that the sports industry took significant action for good so we created a list to celebrate some of the greatest industry achievements for the year.


Our culture is accepting and acting on climate change like never before. As science and activism swarms through worldwide generations, economies and businesses in every sector are acknowledging their own responsibility to act on this crisis.

Sports as a market has a myriad of subsections including major events, grassroot teams to professional elites, sportswear to training grounds. Each area has its own hurdles to overcome, yet the camaraderie across the sports industry is a powerful force for good within itself.

  • Royal Parks was one of the first London half marathons to beat its 2020 goal by a year to operate plastic free, incorporating recyclable bibs, water capsules made of seaweed and ethically printed, reusable, undated signage around the course.
  • The FIFA 2019 Diversity Award was won by Fútbol Más Foundation, a charity which endeavours to develop the life skills of young people and children and connect them to their communities.
  • Tokyo 2020 announced that medals will be made from recyclable materials, and energy used to power the event will be renewable.
  • Wimbledon scrapped plastic racket covers for the first year, saving 4500 plastic bags from the event - amongst many other new sustainability scheme implementations.
  • The Global Association of International Sports Federations launched a Sustainability Award to encourage its members to proactively undertake actions to join the climate change battle.
  • The Sports Positive Summit teamed up with BBC Sports to compile extensive research into the sustainability of all twenty Premier League Clubs. Each club has been asked to provide evidence for eight categories: clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transport, single use plastic reduction or removal, waste management, water efficiency, plant based or low carbon food options, and communications or engagement.
  • Sweden’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships committed to a fossil fuel free and climate neutral event for its 2019 games.
  • Sport and Sustainability International launched the #100daysforsport campaign on June 1st, sharing and celebrating examples of sport organisations and events contributing positively to the UNs Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Virgin Money London Marathon and London Marathon Events trialled numerous initiatives including fewer drinks stations, a closed loop recycling project, bottle belts created from recycled materials, Ooho water capsules, compostable cups and digitisation of printed collateral such as sign up forms and race information.
  • 16 new signatories from major sporting event organisations to club teams to federations joined WWF France’s and Ministry of Sports Charter of 15 eco-responsible commitments. In June the charter was recognised as an effective tool for climate action by the UN Climate Secretariat, and as of this summer is represented at 270 international and national events.

Stonewall charity promotional rainbow lace campaign image stating 'make sport everyone's game'

Equality and diversity

2019 was also momentous for uniting the sporting community together as equals - regardless of ability, race, gender or economic status. The playing fields are developing into equal grounds for all, with fewer instances of discriminatory abuse based on belonging to a minority.

  • Sport Australia joined forces with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports to launch new guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport.
  • 2019 was the first year that both men and women received equal prize money at the World Surf League, after they were questioned about the difference in 2018 on social media.
  • Sense - a charity focused on improving the quality of disabled people’s lives - received over £1.3million in funding from Sport England, allowing thousands of disabled children and adults to access sport across the UK for the first time.
  • Englands Rugby Senior Women, The Red Roses, won their 15th Six Nation since 1996.
  • Almost 100,000 rainbow laces were dispatched by Stonewall UK to support their LGBTQ sports inclusivity campaign, with a study highlighting that 65% of the general British public wanted homophobic language to be challenged and removed from sports matches.
  • The Lionesses’ World Cup team announcement became a landmark achievement for inspiring interest in women’s football. They paired 23 celebrities with each player to create an announcement video, taking the Internet by storm. The videos have now been viewed 10.7 million times and featured HRH Duke of Cambridge, Emma Watson and David Beckham.
  • In addition to the PR stunt, the Lionesses success in the World Cup - where they placed 4th - saw 850,000 more women participate in football in the short period after the competition. There are now 2.3 million women engaged in the sport here in the UK.
  • The new Toyota Parasport Fund - with Sport England and the British Paralympic Association - will be offering £250,000 to pay for training and equipment to guide disabled people into becoming more active.
  • Reema Juffali became the first Saudi Arabian woman driver to race competitively in her own kingdom in November.
  • Cricket Australia announced equal prize money for their T20 World Cup men’s and women’s teams for the first time.

Dwarf association team members smiling during a break in hockey game. Courtesy of Sport England/DSA

From retailers such as JD Sports lowering their air-based freight transport by 76% in favour of climate friendly solutions to Coca Cola creating Tokyo 2020 Torchbearer uniforms out of recycled bottles, sport is becoming one of the strongest forces for change.