Game theory

The Commonwealth Games bid is failing the environment, says Tim Bousquet.

Last month, the people hoping to bring the 2014 Commonwealth Games to Halifax announced a major advertising campaign, with ads splashed on billboards and buses, on TV and in newspapers, and with a large web presence. “There’s a strong desire for further information,” spokesperson Deborah Hashey told city council.

“The ad campaign is making information available to engage the public,” a second spokesperson for the Commonwealth Games bid committee, Suzanne Fougere, tells me. But beyond feel-good sloganeering—“Everyone Wins!”—the ads don’t convey any actual public-engaging info.

As if to prove the point, Fougere declines to give me any specific details about what environmental policies will be part of the bid. “We certainly do have plans for it,” she says, “but it’s not something we’re prepared to talk about yet.”

The bid committee is missing the boat. Athletic event organizers around the world have made environment planning a fundamental part of their games. This makes sense: athletic excellence is directly connected to overall environmental health. The International Olympic Committee has named Environment one of the three pillars—with Sport and Culture—of the Olympic Games, and the Athens and Torino Olympics both met their goals of a zero-net increase in greenhouse gases by reducing fuel consumption and through reforestation.

Nowadays, even organisers of smaller, non-Olympic events regularly incorporate green policies into their games.

For instance, the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia (which the Halifax bid committee visited), aimed to be “water wise, carbon neutral and low waste.” Organizers established specific goals: the restoration of the Yarra River and Wetlands, water recycling at venues, the planting of one million trees, reaching a high energy rating for the athlete’s village and much more. They also hired non-profit environmental organisations to perform work, audit the progress and issue periodic report cards to the public.

If any one person can be credited for the “green games” movement, it’s Ottawa resident David Chernushenko, whose 1994 book Greening Our Games established many of the guidelines now commonplace in game planning, and who worked with the successful Vancouver Olympic bid committee.

“They should look at environmentally sustainable games positively,” says Chernushenko, speaking on the phone from Ottawa. “It’s a great opportunity for the games and for the community. It gets the community supporting the bid, and the evaluation people see that community support.”

Chernushenko says the local bid committee is already behind on their work.

“By now, environmental sustainability should be declared a key element of their bid, and stated quite clearly. It doesn’t yet have to be worked out in detail, but it should be placed thoroughly in their documents. And, they should have someone with environmental expertise as part of their committee.”

On all three counts, the Halifax bid committee fails. Besides one vague reference to “fiscal and environmental responsibility,” the group’s web site doesn’t even mention environmental concerns. And while the board of directors and management team is heavy on chamber of commerce types, it lacks anyone with obvious environmental expertise.

Fougere told me the group will eventually have an environmental advisory committee. “We don’t have anyone yet,” she admitted. “We haven’t decided how and what relationship we’ll have with the different stakeholder groups.”

It’s not too late, but the bid committee is moving dangerously slow on the environmental front.

“It usually shows when the environment is tacked on at the end—oh, we better throw the environmentalists a bone,” Chernushenko says. “It’s truly in the vested interest of sport to do this right. If you’re actually contributing to environmental problems, you’re one of the bad guys, not one of the good guys.”

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