|photo: tore brevik|
Elisabeth Helseth talks to Tore Brevik
The Olympic Games are spectacular and entertaining, but they can also threaten the environment - especially in the host city or country. Fortunately, over the last ten years there has been a growing focus on the environmental aspects of the Olympics and other large sporting events.
Tore Brevik, UNEP's Director of Communications and Public Information until 2002, has been at the heart of helping to make the Olympics - and sports in general - more environmentally friendly. He says that 'greening the Olympics' had a breakthrough with the Lillehammer Winter Games in 1994. There had been earlier awareness-raising events, including a tree-planting ceremony at the 1972 Munich Olympics. But it was Lillehammer that first showed it was possible to have two weeks of sports and fun, hosting people from all over the world, and still care for the environment.
Tore says that Lillehammer started with an advantage in becoming 'the first green Olympics' because Norwegians have a strong tradition of taking care of nature and the environment. At the time, 67 per cent of the people of Lillehammer put the environment as their top priority, far ahead of jobs, better roads, or even Norwegian gold medals. Cooperation between the different groups involved in the Games was equally important. The environmental authorities, the organizers and pressure groups 'instead of fighting each other, worked together to solve the problems', he recalls.
Largely as a result of this success, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided in 1995 that environment should be seen as the third dimension of the Olympics, together with sport and culture. That same year IOC and UNEP signed a cooperation agreement calling for action on sports and the environment.
As the environmental emphasis grew, says Tore, 'the selection of Sydney was to a large extent based on environmental practices'. The 2000 Sydney Games were seen as the 'greenest Olympics ever'. Now every candidate city for the event must present an environment programme as part of its bid, and the media and environmental groups like Greenpeace help ensure that host cities live up to their promises. He adds: 'Today you can't have any big sports event, and certainly not the Olympic Games, without paying attention to the environment.'
He explains that the Olympic Movement has its own version of Agenda 21- 'Sport for Sustainable Development'. This is a follow-up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, an action plan 'about what environmental considerations we have to take into account when we are doing sports'. But he adds: 'Of course organizations need such papers and documents, but what is important is that a practical way of thinking about the environment filters down to small local sports clubs, their members and individual athletes.
'You cannot do any kind of sport if you don't have a good environment with fresh air, clean water, etc. We want to make the sports leaders and athletes aware, so that they don't take a good environment for granted.
'Sport interests all of us, even if some just follow it on television. We all have a tremendous interest in the athletes, which makes them important role models. So UNEP works with them and sports organizations: if they set a good example, this will be observed by the public and have a beneficial effect.'
He predicts that the United Nations will put more and more emphasis on the importance of sport, and play - now recognized as human rights. He points out that sport can be used to help build peace, give people a chance of education in developing countries and help in reaching the millennium goals of the United Nations.
He says that the most important thing is: 'to make people aware, to give them information on what is happening to our planet, and what we can do about it'. And he ends on a note of optimism: 'I think young people today are much more aware and interested in the environment than before.
'We all can make a difference!'
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