Read GB Snowsport Chief Executive Vicky Gosling’s remarks at yesterday’s Blue Earth Summit
Yesterday, GB Snowsport Chief Executive Vicky Gosling was invited to speak on sport and climate change on the first day of Blue Earth Summit 2023 in Bristol. Here we reproduce Vicky’s speech, outlining the scale of the challenges posed to sport by the enormous threats of climate change.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a huge privilege to be here speaking to you all today.
In the past few years, our country’s elite sporting system – and particularly our Olympic and Paralympic skiing and snowboarding set-up – has faced some major challenges.
There was covid. Three seasons of chaos caused by the pandemic and the necessary measures put in place to mitigate its worst impacts.
There’s Brexit and the ongoing challenges it has put in front of British athletes, especially those who need to travel for training and competition in Europe.
There’s the current inflationary economic conditions which, combined with a reduction in public funding, has made it harder to invest in the progress of some of Britain’s most promising and exciting young athletes.
Through all of those challenges, we’ve not only survived – we’ve thrived, delivering Britain’s greatest ever season on snow last year.
You may have heard about some of it – Mia Brookes becoming the world’s youngest ever Freestyle World Champion at 16.
Charlotte Bankes and Huw Nightingale taking the Team Snowboard Cross World Championships title.
Zoe Atkin winning an X Games gold medal in Freeski Halfpipe.
Dave Ryding taking yet another podium at the world’s most famous Slalom race, the Kitzbuehel World Cup.
All part of a season that saw Britain take 50 podiums at the highest levels of snowsport. All in the face of some of the biggest challenges the sport has ever faced.
So, we’re good at facing down challenges. We’re accustomed to it. We find a way to win.
Except with the impacts of climate change, I genuinely fear that we’re facing up to a challenge that we can’t overcome through grit, determination, or adaptation.
Glacial melt. Reduced snowpack. Heatwaves in October.
When we talk about the impact of climate change on snowsport, we’re talking about the very real and very present changes to the world around us.
Snowsport may not be the reason to save the world and make sure we’re doing everything in our power to achieve the net zero commitments the world requires, but I’ll tell you this; our sport is the canary in the coalmine, and we’re coming perilously close to stopping singing.
Last season, we saw more conditions-related competition cancellations than in any other season since I’ve been involved in this sport. We saw Para World Championships scheduled for January postponed due to a lack of snow. We saw the start of the season pushed back, and back again, as conditions in the mountains remained stubbornly unviable for high-level competition. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the same thing again this year.
For too long, sport – like so many other parts of society – has sleepwalked towards this point. Waiting for someone else to do something, or for the vain hope that the worst predictions might prove to be wrong. But they didn’t, and they weren’t, and if the best time to act would have been a decade ago, the second best time has to be now.
And just in case we allow ourselves to think that this might still be an issue that effects something far away from us – up in the mountains, with a few feet less snow each year – let me put on my other sporting hat, the one I wear as Chair of GB Surfing, and tell you that the environment is hurting here too.
Whether it’s increasing power and unpredictability in storm surges, or the fact our coastlines are degrading as surfers paddle through effluent, the world is suffering, and we are suffering with it.
So, we need to change. We need to change course, we need to change approach, and we need to change the way we all work together.
I see our young skiers, snowboarders, and surfers – bright, articulate, ambitious, talented young people – and I see them watching the world in which they’ve honed their craft changing faster than they can adapt. And I worry about what that does to them, the impacts it has on their mental health, and on their futures.
We have so much to be proud of in what we’re achieving in sports like snowsport and surfing, with a new generation of athletes breaking new ground in British colours week in, week out. And we really do need to protect that, by protecting the environment that makes these things possible.
We’re too small to do that alone. We need a true, collective effort, and if I leave you with one message today, I hope it’s this: our door is open. We’re here to talk, to work together, to build something that protects our sports and, in doing so, protects our planet.
So far, we’ve overcome everything thrown at us. Work with us to help us overcome this next big challenge.