It was mid-February 2020. The air in Prague was cold, but the sun was piercing through heavy snow-bearing clouds, its rays reflecting of the Moldau River. A typical winter day. The Olympic world was slowly shifting to higher gears in preparation for the Tokyo Games, and we kicked-off the ASAP project with a training for sustainability managers and the first meeting of the project team. At the same time, worrying news from China, Italy, Austria….started to make their way on the agenda of sport organisations.

The COVID-19 pandemics has hit the sports world with all its power. Yet, it has also provided us with a break from our “business as usual” and moved us into a more “reflective mode”. Looking back at those months, this involuntarily created space proved to be the perfect breeding ground for questioning the ways we do things, for innovation, for building resilience. In other words, it offered us the perfect opportunity to dive deep into sustainability.

All three mentee National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have made considerable progress in developing their respective sustainability strategies in the past twelve months, moving through a very detailed screening process, material sustainability issues identification, prioritisation and finally preparation of the first versions of the framework for their strategies. While working tirelessly with their mentees, mentor NOCs have also made big strides on their sustainability journeys with DK NOC joining the UN Sport for Climate Action, FI NOC adopting a new sustainability strategy, and DOSB making significant progress in implementing their strategy.

The sustainability-related activities of the ASAP project partners have not been “unique”, though. Quite on the contrary. It seems that the pandemics has accelerated a trend that had been visible for a number of years; a trend where sustainability, systemic thinking and full appreciation of the interdependencies between people, nature, planet and sport start creeping higher on the agenda of the sport movement across the board. The International Olympic Committee has pledged to become climate positive by 2024, over 200 organisations have joined the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, major international sport federations have adopted new sustainability strategies (e.g. World Athletics, International Biathlon Union, World Triathlon), Olympians and other top athletes have made their voices heard in favour of climate action, social rights… and the list could go on.

However, critics could argue that much more needs to be done, and that the sport movement needs to step to the plate and use its inspirational power to drive change towards a more sustainable way of life. The challenges laying ahead of us may seem daunting, but what we have learn in the past year is that EVERY SMALL STEP counts. Even without having a sustainability strategy adopted, or a sophisticated programme, analysis or reporting in place, sport organisations of any size can contribute to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and many already do without, perhaps, even realising it. Even though the ultimate aim of the ASAP project is to enable project partners embed sustainability across their operations, it is worth showcasing the small or bigger steps that they have done walking on their respective path towards strategic sustainability.

In the next six to eight weeks, we will put to spotlight some of these initiatives, projects, or activities that the six ASAP project partners have implemented over the past twelve COVID-dominated months ranging from environmental education, through innovation in sports events, to measuring carbon footprint.

Stay tuned!