Sports

Blasberg ’18: Sailing for Sustainability

By
Sports Columnist
Thursday, September 28, 2017

Spanning 45,000 nautical miles, four oceans and six continents, the Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s premier long-distance sailing event. It takes place every three years and puts the world’s top sailors in an around-the-clock, around-the-world pursuit of history.

For the second time, Charlie Enright ’08 and Mark Towill ’11 will take to the sea as teammates in the event. Both were stars on the men’s sailing team and kept their passion alive after graduation. With Enright skippering the boat in 2014, the two finished fifth of seven in their first Volvo Ocean Race, sailing for team Alvimedica. With experience under their belt this time around, Enright and Towill are chasing an overall victory in the 2017-18 race.

All the while, this event operates against the backdrop of a larger issue: Sporting events create large amounts of waste, especially from the food and beverages served in single-use containers. The Guardian estimates that each fan consumes about 4 kilograms of CO2 when attending a sports event, and this number jumps up if fans drive to the event or consume food there.

But the sport of sailing, perhaps because of its reliance on the ocean environment, is leading the charge in sustainability efforts in sports. In all levels of sailing competition, single-use plastic water bottles are banned. In collegiate sailing, a race committee has the power to disqualify a sailor that they see littering in the water.

Enright and Towill are entering this race with their own sustainability message. The team has two title sponsors: Vestas and 11th Hour Racing. 11th Hour Racing, based in Newport, is a foundation that promotes eco-friendly marine activity, especially in sailing and recreational boating. While sailing events can often have unintentional consequences for marine ecosystems, Enright and Towill, through their partnership with 11th Hour Racing, aim to be the most sustainable team in the race. Furthermore, 11th Hour Racing is working closely with the Volvo Ocean Race as a whole to devise more sustainable ways to transport supplies. It has also banned single-use plastic in the race and is providing a model of sustainability for other world sporting events to follow.

The Volvo Ocean Race’s  partnership with 11th Hour Racing is a huge step for the sport and sends a clear message regarding the priorities of sailors and sailing events as a whole. For the Volvo Ocean Race, 11th Hour Racing has taken on the role of consulting on waste removal in stopover cities and throughout the race.

More generally, most international sporting events disrupt the environment by building stadiums, stands and other structures that must be disassembled after or are not met with long-term demand. One striking example of this is the infrastructure built for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. With the exception of the famous Bird Nest, which primarily serves as a tourist attraction rather than an event space, the vast majority of stadiums, fields and bleachers assembled for the event have simply been abandoned.

Event organizers and venues need to realize that outsourcing waste removal to sustainability organizations is a clear and surefire way to minimize this environmental harm. Few events involve these groups to clean up the stadium’s waste after the event has finished. Recently, the Rio Olympics took a step where Beijing and Sochi fell short by partnering with local sustainability organizations to manage recycling and waste removal from event areas.

The Volvo Ocean Race circumnavigates the globe over eleven legs, separated by stopovers at host cities. In each host city, the teams engage in an in-port race, which tests the sailors’ tactics and boat handling on a smaller course. With a more experienced team this year, Enright and Towill look to improve their ocean racing tactics as well as familiarity and comfortability with the longer legs.

While the sailing world waits with baited breath for this epic race to begin next month, the Volvo Ocean Race has built a model of sustainability for other sporting events to follow. These occasions are too important to society to be eliminated; the challenge is to adjust our mentality surrounding them so that we are as environmentally concious as possible. The Brown community should be heartened to see two graduates taking on such an extreme athletic challenge while promoting sustainability practices in sports.

Charlie Blasberg ’18 can be reached at charles_blasberg@brown.edu.