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World athletics chief Coe blasts ‘greenwashing’ by politicians

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has criticised politicians for “greenwashing exercises” but said sport can play a key role in tackling climate change during an event at Wimbledon.

Coe was speaking at the Environment Positive Panel on Thursday alongside other sports stars including former England football captain Gary Lineker and retired Norwegian golfer Suzann Pettersen.

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Coe, who led London’s successful bid for the 2012 Games, said: “Sport has the ability to shine a spotlight on things that ministers and politicians just won’t touch.”

He added: “There can be a continuity through sport and a continued expression of pressure in this space because we’re not sitting there thinking about the next four-year electoral cycle.

“And, I’m sorry, COP28 (the UN climate change conference later this year), all of them, these are greenwashing exercises.” 

The British former middle-distance star said three-quarters of elite track and field athletes had reported that climate change had already impacted their training and competition programmes.

He highlighted soaring temperatures at the US Olympic trials in Oregon in 2021.

“We’re in the position where probably we’re going to have to move at some stage all our road endurance events from the world championships or even an Olympic Games to another time of the year,” he said.

He added: “We have made a decision that in future we probably won’t take our championships into landscapes where air quality falls below a threshold and actually, if I’m being a little closer to home, that would include London.”

Coe admitted that balancing human rights and climate change issues would become a greater challenge in the coming decades, with energy-rich states such as Saudi Arabia and 2022 World Cup host Qatar playing a more prominent role.

Lineker, who chaired the panel, said football could do much more to adopt greener practices.

He said: “There is so much travel involved, so many flights. A lot of footballers and football teams take private jets everywhere…. I think private jets should be banned.”

“Every sport has got to try and do their best but ultimately we know that governments need to take a bigger hand in these things,” he added.

Wimbledon protests

The panellists were asked about their reaction to on-court protests at Wimbledon on Wednesday by Just Stop Oil demonstrators.

“I don’t really agree with their actions but I understand where they are coming from,” said Petersen, who is captain of the European Solheim Cup team.

Coe urged campaign groups to work with sport to fight for change.

“Don’t think of us as competitors, think of us as potential collaborators here, use us. Come on board and allow the amplification that our athletes and our federations can give to this,” he said.

“My message would be ‘Come and be part of this with us’. Help us shape this.”

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