“We want everyone to be advocates for climate justice by the end of this, we want everyone to see that this makes not only the club better, it should make their community better.”
In early 2021, member-owned Bohemian FC from the Republic of Ireland took an unprecedented step forwards to addressing its impact on the planet by appointing Sean McCabe, a supporter and member, as the club’s first ‘Climate Justice Officer’.
Already, Bohemian FC has signed up to the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Initiative, becoming the first sports organisation in the Republic of Ireland to do so.
“Member owned clubs immediately give you a great sense of belonging. And life is about belonging, feeling good, and life is about feeling like you belong somewhere”
To synergize SD Europe’s ongoing commitment to it’s sustainability principle and the nature of Bohemian FC being a member-owned football club, we held an in-depth interview with Sean about his role at the club and what ‘Bohs’ hope to achieve.
Can you offer an insight into what being a climate justice officer involves and what the responsibilities are?
“It’s hard to say, we’re still learning. It’s a new role and it’s an exciting role. I think many people are familiar at this stage with the idea of sustainability. But that’s on the three pillars of sustainability, economic sustainability, social sustainability and environmental sustainability. And, it’s obviously an incredibly important concept. And I guess where we’re looking at a climate justice role is to push a little bit further in terms of rectifying injustice and trying to understand that all of the issues that a club face in terms of sustainability exist in a community of fans and the wider community, and that wider community faces barriers, whether its barriers to participation in society, or poverty or some form of marginalisation. So, in the first place what we’re trying to do with the climate justice officer role is to address sustainability, take the simple steps that are needed to reduce waste and reduce our carbon footprint, and the simple stuff like that. It’s not simple, but it’s understandably, conceptually simple. But then the other piece is, and I’ll be doing this in conjunction with the social inclusion officer James that the club has recently appointed, we’ll be looking at how can our actions around environmentalism, sustainability and climate action be good for the community that the club draws its fan base from, draws its membership from, as a fan-owned club. The role is about ensuring that the actions taken around sustainability are good for the fans, good for the club and good for the planet.”
Is it about starting to sow the seeds of particular ideas around sustainability through the football club which people might listen to more than perhaps other parts of society?
“Absolutely. The clubs have to really embrace their capacity as agents for change, we’re facing the greatest catastrophe the world has ever known in the climate crisis. And clubs have a platform that will help steer their fans through this crisis. In my mind, we have to embrace, Bohemians is a fan-owned club and has been since 1890. I work with a think tank in Dublin on the topic of climate justice. A lot of that work is focused on how cooperative systems can help us navigate the crisis. And so much of the discussion around climate change to date has been about what the individual can do, what you have to recycle, why you have to reduce your own carbon footprint. But we know there’s a whole host of people using their voice like they do every week at a football stadium, when they are allowed in, is so much more powerful than one person roaring on the streets. And that’s what we have to move. That’s what that’s the power that clubs have would be to help inform and move their fans away from this paradigm of individual responsibility towards this idea of ‘we are a collective, we’re one, and we have to move through this together’. We can also benefit if this is done right, if the investment into climate action is done right, the whole community can benefit. So, we want to see if Bohemian Football Club can pioneer those ideas. Like I say, once we’ve got the basics right in terms of reducing our own waste, reducing our own carbon footprint and saving money for the club in the process.”
What started the process to establish this role that you’ve taken on at the club?
“About a year and a half ago, I joined a Bohs delegation who were meeting with a delegation from Hibernian FC from Scotland, and Hibs were over visiting Dalymount (Bohemian FC’s stadium) and we spoke about their environmental programme and what they’re doing there at the greenest club in Scotland. We learnt a lot from that. Obviously, we were aware of Forest Green Rovers and other initiatives. So that was that was the genesis.”
How does it feel as a member of the club to be able to take this on and try and push it forward?
“I think member own clubs immediately give you a great sense of belonging. And life is about belonging, feeling good, and life is about feeling like you belong somewhere. And, you know, as Daniel Lambert, the Chief Operations Officer of Bohs, often says, ‘there’s not much that people belong to anymore’. Trade union membership has dwindled and people aren’t part of their church as much anymore. Football clubs might be one of the last places where people have a sense of belonging from birth to old age and so having the ability to, and not only be a member, but contribute in this way, it’s just very exciting. Honestly, it’s very exciting because I never thought of climate justice as something I could ever combine with my interest in football. And now that it’s happened, it just seems so obvious and everyone is so interested and motivated by it. And, you know, it’s just hard to keep up. That’s my struggle now, is just trying to keep up.”
What are the initial stages you’ve taken in your role?
“To be honest, there’s a few basic things we’re doing, so we’re in the process of a stock take, basically an order of the club’s activities to understand where there may be waste and where there could be money saved if different processes were put into place. We’re hopefully going to use the next few weeks while the stadium’s still doesn’t have fans in attendance to look at matchday infrastructure and things like that. It’s all trying to get the low hanging fruit initially. We’ve also signed up to the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Initiative, and we’re the first Irish sporting entity to do that. And like I said, we’re also engaging with the European Football Development Network and trying to engage with other clubs around Europe on this idea of what can clubs do for climate justice.”
How does it feel to have you club engaging on the European and global level in this area?
“Well, it’s exciting, in my own background I do quite a bit of work at the UN level myself. I can really see it’s becoming more and more apparent all the synergies and opportunities for football to do more than just to talk about sustainability. if in a year’s time everyone isn’t talking about sustainability, we’re losing out, you know, it’s basic. Where we need to go to is to be talking about how football clubs have fan bases that extend into the developing world where people are on the front lines of climate change and where and their lives are going to be made impossibly difficult by what’s coming unless major changes take place. They have a duty of care to their fans almost to push agendas that are about protecting their rights and protecting their dignity. And that’s at the heart of climate justice. What I think is exciting and where there seems to be a coalescing of thought is clubs can move beyond just being that, trying to be as sustainable as possible, and add on to that, not to say, that’s still very important, but add on to that, the ability to advocate for their fans because they draw their legitimacy further from their fans. Clubs are only of any value because they have fans and those fans need them now to advocate for them, to say the world is heading in a terrible, terrible direction, and if we don’t turn this boat around very quickly, the first people to suffer will be our fans. And so, let’s act and lets act fast. I think if we get the right people involved and the right entities, we could move very quickly.”
Is it fair to say the pandemic has almost been like a trial of what reality could be like if nothing is done when it comes to when it comes to the climate? If severe climate change means you can only leave your house for a certain period of time or you can’t go abroad?
“Completely. And the other thing is there’s no vaccine. So you can’t wait for vaccines to the climate crisis, once it passes a stage where it’s gone beyond the point of no return and you are experiencing whatever lockdown activities or equivalents. That’s it. That’s it for life. And it’s terrifying. Even the large corporate clubs who have all these resources and presumably themselves feel like they’ve got good enterprise risk management and they’re able to avoid the impacts, they have to realise that their fans won’t and they need to be there for their fans now more than ever.”
How have the club’s members, supporters and local community reacted to the establishment of your role at the club?
“I think it’s definitely fair to say the reaction was mixed. A lot of people didn’t get us. There was some people who seemed furious. I think they didn’t appreciate that it was a volunteer role and that we hadn’t blown to transfer our budget on the climate justice officer. I think it was a very mixed reaction. It definitely attracted a lot of attention. It started a lot of conversations. A lot of people didn’t understand why you needed a climate justice officer. But I think that’s exactly the reaction that I’d like to see. And to be fair, I would have been one of those people a certain period of time ago. It just helps to explain that we have to do this and bring the club and the fans on a journey. I guess we want everyone to be advocates for climate justice by the end of this, we want everyone to see that this makes not only the club better, it should make their community better.
For other fan-owned and member-run football clubs across Europe, what advice would you give on starting that journey into taking climate action?
“I think the first thing to do is to just get someone who cares about it to get involved, what’s happening with Bohs is very much an organic journey. The thing is to reach out, let’s build a network of particularly fan-owned clubs, but just clubs in general and the smaller clubs that maybe don’t necessarily have the resources that they can separate and put into these initiatives solely. What we can do by sharing lessons learnt is maybe build a toolkit or some simple system that can really help clubs take those initial first steps. I think that would be a good part of the journey, to reach out and to ask. Let’s build a network of clubs that want to take on and want to advance climate justice.“
What is the ultimate goal to be achieved from this?
“Ultimately, we want to provide a safe and fairer future for our children and grandchildren. It’s really stark. We have to do it. We’ve got 10 years. It’s not a drill anymore. It’s this is literally make or break time. So what’s the ultimate goal? I would like to see Bohemian Football Club become sustainable. I would like to see benefits come to the club for taking early action. I’d like to see the fans grow to appreciate what’s happening, and I’d like to see the club be able to give back to the community in some way through the actions that they take. And on the larger scale, I’d like to see world football unite around the concept of climate justice. And row in behind the young people, particularly the children and the school children, the young people who are really fighting for their futures and are the lifeblood of clubs and just rally behind them, they don’t even need to lead. They just need to show their support for the young people and call on those with the power to change our direction, to do so as quickly as possible. It’s about genuinely improving the club and improving how the club operates and improving the club’s relationship with the community. And then it’s about trying to save the planet, and I make no qualms about you start local and you do the local things, but it is at the end of the day about trying to change the big picture.”
SD Europe would like to thank Sean and Bohemian FC for sharing an insight into their story.