By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin,
Awareness around climate change and environmental issues is growing: not one day goes by without seeing videos showing animals impacted by ocean plastics or reading about the devastating effects of extreme weather events. Citizens are getting more involved, and tennis players are no exception.
A quick look at the ATP, WTA and ITF websites proves that sustainability doesn’t seem to be on their radar: the three governing structures of tennis do not, at least publicly, disclose their strategy towards sustainability or report on their environmental performance. It is no wonder that tournaments (and players!) are taking action themselves to tackle the heavy environmental footprint of the tennis tour.
Players such as Kevin Anderson, Denis Shapovalov and Dominic Thiem have regularly expressed their interest in environmental causes and promoted eco-friendly initiatives put forward by tournaments. Through his December charity event, Anderson, who had to withdraw from the Montreal event because of a knee injury, decided to donate to Ocean Conservancy, a non-for-profit working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges.
Scrolling through Dominic Thiem’s social media accounts makes it clear that it is something the Austrian also strongly cares about. The tournament’s second seed has notably been seen wearing a bracelet created by 4Ocean, an organization that has removed more than four million pounds of trash from oceans and coastlines in the past two years. After his second-round win against Denis Shapovalov, Thiem wrote ‘Play 4 The Ocean’ on the camera during the usual post-match stunt. ‘’Many players are concerned about this issue, Thiem confirmed. I think it’s pretty easy for the tournaments to improve. For example, the plastic bags used to cover the newly-strung racquets, which we don’t really need, were gone for the first time in Wimbledon’’.
The Coupe Rogers presented in Montreal has decided to also remove these plastics bags, an initiative that was notably applauded by Canada’s own Denis Shapovalov. This is just one of the projects put forward by the tournament as part of their Sustainability Plan, which was elaborated eleven years ago. This plan notably includes buying carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from the energy used on site, as well as the transport of volunteers and players, including air travel to and from Montreal.
The tournament also encourages visitors to leave their cars at home, notably through a partnership with the Société de transport de Montréal: each ticket for the tournament acts up as a free public transit round-trip ticket. Many locals, including tournament director Eugène Lapierre, bike to the event every day.
This year, the tournament is even sponsored by Recycle-Quebec, the organization in charge of promoting responsible waste management in Quebec: a squad of volunteers can be seen teaching visitors how to use the 40 recycling and composting bins scattered across the grounds. Composting, which was started in 2014, was brought to the next level in 2016 when the tournament put a policy in place for all food service items to be 100% compostable.
The tournament’s biggest sustainability challenge? ‘’Definitely tennis ball cans, local sustainability consultant Sara Courcelles confirmed. They are difficult to recycle with other plastics due to their metal rim’’. To effectively recycle them, the tournament has set up a station where plastic and metal portions of more than 1100 ball cans were separated in 2018. Once used for practice or matches, the balls are then given to schools across Quebec to be put under chairs and desks to reduce noise in the classrooms.
Earlier this year during French Open, the four Grand Slams tournament have agreed to sign a pledge to collectively commit to measure, reduce and offset their carbon emissions through the UNFCCC’s Sports for Climate Action Framework. Later this year, the USTA will even be presented with the Green Sports Alliance Environmental Leadership Award for its commitment for waste diversion: in the 2018 edition of the tournament, 97% of the waste generated was diverted away from landfill, 75 tonnes of food was composted and a further 15 tonnes was donated to local food banks.
When asked what drives so many sustainability efforts in Montreal, Sara Courcelles was clear: ‘’It’s all about the tournament’s culture and strong support from management.’’ As environmental issues become more and more important for players and fans, let’s hope more tournament follow in Montreal’s footsteps and global efforts are put forward by both the men’s and women’s tour. In the words of Dominic Thiem: ‘’I think every small thing helps a lot to help the whole big picture.’’