The ninth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG9) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 is: “Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation”. This reminds us that sport is an intrinsic part of its environment, and in particular, facilities such as stadiums, gyms and arenas. Because sport has a real impact on the environment, it is important for sport facilities to be sustainably designed.

An ecological perspective in designing sport facilities
The Paris 2024 project, which aims to organise the “most sustainable Olympic and Paralympic games in history”, is a good illustration of a sport movement increasingly aware of environmental issues. In real terms, this is shown by the eco-design of sport facilities ensuring that they do not harm the local environment, that they consume less energy, and that they use suitable materials. For example, the city of Paris promises that the Olympic and Paralympic village will be made up of environmentally responsible buildings using 100% renewable energy and with a “zero waste” policy.

Plan for afterwards
Legacy is another important aspect of sustainable infrastructure and raises the question of what happens afterwards in the context of major international sporting events. There are many examples of “white elephants” – huge stadiums abandoned once the event is over, as was the case in Athens and more recently in Brazil. This is why sustainable development was central to Dakar 2026, the Summer Youth Olympics (YOG) originally planned for 2022. The project is part of a national plan (the PSE – Plan Sénégal Emergent) which aims to achieve several of the SDGs by 2035. The fact that the YOG were designed to have a long-term positive impact on the city and the country was an important element in the decision by the International Olympic Committee to select Dakar as host city. To give one example, the Olympic village will be converted into a university residence after the YOG.

Recycle existing facilities
Rehabilitating existing infrastructure is also central to the issue. An excellent example is the restructuring of an ice rink in an abandoned exhibition hall by an Italian architect for the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006. Several sport facilities are being renovated for Dakar 2026, such as the Iba-Mar-Diop stadium and the Tour-de-l’Oeuf sports complex. This has the additional advantage of holding the Games in a place that is already popular and in an urban setting, so that local people can easily attend. Although temporary facilities may be seen as a good compromise, as Jean-Loup Chappelet points out, they are expensive and difficult to convert, as shown by the beach-volleyball stadium built for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and now in ruins.

Sustainable facilities for healthier life-styles.
Apart from mega-facilities like stadiums, local facilities should also be repaired and upgraded, because that enables a greater number of people to do sport or a physical activity. In fact, article II.2 of the Kazan Action Plan (UNESCO) highlights the positive impact of sustainable facilities on health: “Infrastructure and space for sport, physical education and physical activity in urban and rural planning can help support, develop and maintain active and healthy lifestyles for their citizens and build inclusive and sustainable communities”. This reasoning is reflected in the project from FIFA and the AFD in Benin, with its aim of constructing and renovating football pitches in schools in that country. Looking at this from the angle of major international sporting events shows how it is possible to make sustainable development central to the design of sport facilities, taking into account the time before, during and after the event. Sustainable facilities should therefore be imagined on a larger scale and in the setting of daily life, in order to create a fundamental change for society.


Crédit photo : International Olympic Comittee Emeritus Professor at the University of Lausanne, member of the Sport and Citizenship Think Tank Scientific Committee. Sport and Citizenship revue no. 34, 2016