Kyle Harman – Turner explains why football and sports need to talk about climate change

Football can be much more than the ethereal concept of the Beautiful Game. It can be an essential tool for elevating crucial, cross-cutting issues for contemporary society, such as climate change. Kyle Harman – Turner has studied and understood the communicative relevance of the world’s most popular sport. In front of his beloved West Ham matches, he examined the possibility of using sacred symbols such as jerseys, crests, and club names to spread one virtuous message: the Earth must be protected. From the Premier League to football and sports around the globe, the horizons of the Climate Clubs project speak the language of virtuous awareness, a language made up of ironic sentences and contemporary design: the ideal mix to reach every generation of fans and enthusiasts, educating them about one of the biggest issues of present and future society. We explore Climate Clubs through the testimony of its creator.

How did the Climate Clubs project come about?

I worked in advertising for 20 years. I had my own agency and was communicating with clients who were spending a lot of money to spread products that were harmful to the world. I started asking myself a question: what could we do if we focused on communicating about climate change? So I decided to quit my job and enrolled in a course dedicated to sustainability at Cambridge University. During the lectures, I was immediately struck by one sentence: it’s not a scientific issue, it’s a communication issue. The science is clear on this topic, yet so many people struggle to understand it. And they are not guilty of that. Football has always been my passion, I’m a longtime West Ham season ticket holder, I’ve also been a journalist, and I’ve had the opportunity to cover events like the World Cup in South Africa. When my son was born I knew I had to do something and try to merge these two universes. I was driven by an inner instinct.

Can you tell us some examples of your virtuous creativity? What have been the reactions of the people and, especially, the fans?

The fans and, in particular, my brother are the real guides in this project. He is an old-school West Ham fan and has never been interested in climate change: if I can change his mindset through our work, it means we’re hitting the target. Many fans are skeptical, but you have to think that a large part of our society is still convinced that climate change is something distant and imperceptible. For so many, climate change is equivalent to the exotic image of a polar bear, which has little to do with our everyday lives. Carlisle United, for example, has to pay huge insurance costs annually because Brunton Park (their stadium), is annually subject to flooding. It is estimated that 23 of the 92 stadiums in English professional football will be flooded by 2050…. That’s why we came up with the ‘Close to Home’ series, reworking the kits of all these teams. Another important project was the one related to Brentford FC. The ‘Bees’ are the ideal platform to communicate that 13 species of these insects have been lost in the UK since 1990. The ‘Wildflower Fireworks – Every bang re-wildflowers the square foot of a football pitch’ project narrates this dramatic extinction, a consequence of the equally dramatic loss of 97 percent of British wildflowers since 1930. Then we created a series of football flags for the Royal Academy of Arts, focused on the logos of various teams. We received thousands of emails/messages, mostly from young fans. So many decided to buy them, knowing that the proceeds would be donated to entities fighting the deterioration of our Earth. Many of them bought flags of rival teams….

What role do and will footballers and clubs play in this awareness-raising process?

Footballers have the power to influence and change the behavior of thousands of fans in a single instant. In the UK, number 10’s like Rashford or Lineker, have much more power and impact than 10 Downing Street. If I were asked to choose between Rashford and any minister as a spokesperson for the fight against climate change, I would always choose Rashford. We are lucky that players like Bellerin are very committed, and we can find many other examples as well: Smalling has his own green company, Bamford has created a goal celebration dedicated to climate change, and Ben Mee recently initiated the first ‘carbon neutral’ transfer in English football history…. So many players are connecting and bonding to our vision and, at the same time, becoming ambassadors for the health of our planet. The feeling is that more and more football figures are concerned about what is happening, and the same thing can be said about clubs and institutions. An evolution is taking place, and it is evidenced by the fact that the Premier League is drafting ad hoc laws. The world of football is realizing that you cannot be perfect, of course, but you can and must do something more for the Planet. Now it will be up to top international footballers to step up and it will be up to clubs to follow virtuous examples such as the Forest Green Rovers one – a League Two (English fourth tier) team that is reducing its impact on the environment to zero and developing a system of total energetic self-sufficiency. They have also created a vegan food chain, which was initially sold inside the stadium and later began to be distributed throughout England. It is a double victory and is the right way to go.

How will you develop the Climate Clubs project in the future? And how do you see the future of our planet?

Sports is bigger than logic, it creates real emotions and connects people. And this vast social space has not yet been used concretely to spread the word about climate change. We don’t want Climate Clubs to be limited to football; our desire is to collaborate with all major sports in the world. I am talking about major American sports, organizations like the NBA and the NFL, which are capable of touching people and fans at every latitude of the globe. The more the message is shared, the better it will take root. Sports and football have taught me that there is always hope, as in the case of the famous ‘Christmas Truce’ during World War I. Sports has the power to bring people together, especially in hard times. And it will continue to do so.

Credits: Climate Clubs