Sport’s first Climate Justice Officer on his new role and the future
We are facing a great transformation in the next ten years.
We are facing a great transformation in the next ten years.
So says Seán McCabe, recently appointed Climate Justice Officer at Bohemian FC, with whom it is difficult to disagree. The science of climate change backs up what we have already begun to experience, whether by drought or flood, fire or famine; yet, in speaking with Seán, this sense of waiting for impending doom is lessened, and one sees that the future can change, if only we should act.
In his new voluntary role, Seán has broken fresh ground, not only at Bohemian FC, or Bohs, but in football and sport. The role of Climate Justice Officer, the first ever of its kind, is built off of Seán’s experiences working at the climate justice think-tank, TASC, in Dublin, as well as his years at the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, through which he engaged in negotiations regarding the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.
“The concept behind climate justice is that it links action and climate change with trying to make sure people are treated with dignity, that their rights are respected, and that injustices are resolved to remove inequality and issues of unfairness within the system that’s trying to tackle climate change.”
On the announcement of the role, some fans were initially aghast at the idea of needing a Climate Justice Officer, something McCabe equates to a kind of “hipster notion”; as the club pushes ahead with its work, its goal is to prove to fans that taking on climate justice won’t negatively impact or burden the club, while also looking for ways to enhance Bohs’ connection with climate action, the community and fans.
Bohs, which has been member-owned since 1890, is not unfamiliar with taking a lead in social and community action. Last year, the club chose to partner with Amnesty International; through that partnership, the club created a “Refugees Welcome” kit, highlighting the difficult living situation refugees have and do face in Ireland. This season, the club will be working with FOCUS Ireland, a homeless charity based in Dublin.
Seán is strong on community engagement, focusing on what he refers to as the “triple win”.
“It’s a question of thinking about the club’s role within the community as more than just a source of entertainment, but actually something that draws its validity from its members, its fans, and their community, saying, ‘well, how can we play a role in their lives in a meaningful way that benefits them, benefits the club, and helps in the fight against climate change?’
“We’re not setting out to preach to people. We’re trying to explain that there’s an enormous transformation coming in all of our lives and we want the club to play a role in supporting the fans in that transformation.
“The club draws its legitimacy from the community, and the members are members of the community, and we care about what happens to the community. The best way to realize or actualize that is to take our responsibility seriously.”
Prioritizing climate action
In the three months since his appointment, Bohs has already taken steps to further its environmental commitments; it signed on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, the first in Ireland to do so. The club also recently announced its new vehicle partnership with MG Motor Ireland, providing the team with 100% electric vehicles from 2021; the club has built charging terminals around the stadium, encouraging options for those already with electric vehicles.
12 April 2021; Sean McCabe, Bohemians Climate Officer, pictured with a signed copy of Sports for Climate Action Framework during the Bohemians Car Handover Announcement at Dalymount Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
It would be remiss not to mention the fact that one of Bohs’ most recent signings, Georgie Kelly, is in the process of earning a Master’s degree in Renewable Energy and Environmental Finance. This team is shooting for more than goals.
In fact, they will eventually be aiming for some big ‘G’ Goals, of the sustainable development kind.
“Right now, for us, the primary step is to talk about community-owned shared action, but that’s basically sustainable development in a nutshell. [..] We will definitely look to incorporate the [Sustainable Development Goals], but in terms of our own milestones, the first step will be getting comfortable with the concept of climate justice, and then the second, potentially next season, will be a broader SDG-type campaign.”
Seán is quick to note that Bohs are by no means the first club to promote positive climate action, citing Hibernian FC and Forest Green Rovers as two major influences among a growing number of clubs across the UK and Europe. However, the justice element is new, and it is something Seán and Bohs hope to share with their extended network.
This includes the European Football for Development Network (EFDN), with whom Seán is working closely to craft a climate justice strategy that can be shared across the board with clubs. Recently, the Football Association of Ireland and its 23 clubs joined the EFDN, becoming the first full league to sign up, a positive indication for climate justice in Irish football.
“I hope the league of Ireland leads the way on this globally, that’d be fun.
“It is a very big work in progress, but it is a work in progress.”
Authenticity is key in the next ten years
A conversation with Seán, a member of Bohs, would not be complete without discussing the implications of the recently founded, and not long after folded, European Super League. The Super League, according to Seán, is a good analogy for climate action and the potential future.
“We’re talking about transforming our transport systems, transforming our energy systems, transforming how our cities work, how we live. The process for that can be very extractive, it can be about taking resources and taking time and funds out of communities and channeling them up to a few billionaires, true large multi-national corporations, like those twelve clubs across Europe wanted to do.
“Or it can be more like Bohemians Football Club, which is member-owned. You can recognize that your community can own these processes and benefit from them, and those benefits can be shared much more widely. So, we don’t have to talk about solidarity funds flowing from a Super League down to the rest of the world, we can just talk about genuine solidarity between people, where people can trust in their neighbors, trust in their community and help each other through this transition.
“People need a sense of belonging in their lives, especially the younger generation. The one thing that the past thirty years has done, it’s done many good things, but it has individualized people. It has made people into consumers rather than members of society, and the more you turn people into consumers and the more you view people as things like ‘legacy fans’, the more you begin to remove their sense of belonging. That was the real miscalculation that those guys made, was that that sense of belonging to football clubs, whether it was in England or in Italy or in Spain, matters an awful lot to people.
“People have realized what’s important, people are sick of being sold at. I think people are very tired of insincerity […]. We’ve had this weird thing happen, again in the past thirty years, where it became cooler to be an influencer on social media than it did to be a member of a union and standing up for your neighbor or standing up for your fellow worker. So, if owners of clubs just view this as a way to flog wares and try to bring in cash, I think they miss out on the authenticity that someone like Marcus Rashford has embodied and caused real change through.
“And that’s one point that has to be made, that the more authentic people are, especially in the wake of the pandemic, and the more authentic the actions of clubs are and the more authentic people’s commitment to change in the face of this next catastrophe, climate change, is, it’s the only thing that will work.
“We’ve got ten years, and at the end of those ten years, if you’ve been pretending to be green or if you kind of made gestures toward something but not really made the fundamental efforts to change, you’ll be found out, you’re not going to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. And young people know that, young people are aware that the next ten years will determine how they live the rest of their lives. The maximum downside, the most negative outcome, is absolutely catastrophic and unimaginable, and they know that. So, it’s not a game anymore, it’s not about point scoring.”
On ending with Seán, the words of fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett come to mind:
“But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!”
If you’re interested in learning more, you may follow the work of Bohemian FC, as well as announcements from EFDN. In addition, we recommend reading Seán’s recent publication, ‘The People’s Transition: Community-led development for climate justice’.
Interview by: Mia Salvemini