Sydney 2000: the turning point for sustainability in sport, at least in theory

by Chiara Aruffo

In the last episode, we talked about the first concrete IOC’s initiatives on environmental issues: Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Sport and Sustainable Development. Starting today, we will analyze how sustainability has been included in the organization of the various editions of the Olympics.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games – the Green Games – represented the turning point for the sustainability in major sporting events, although there has been still some criticism for missed opportunities.

sydney 2000 greenpeace
Greenpeace advertisment against the organizing committee

In 1993, the year after the environmental disaster in Albertville and before any sign of IOC acknowledgement in this regard, Sydney won the bid for the 2000 Games by focusing strongly on the environmental issue. Minister Bruce Baird said in support of the bid: “No other event in the early 21st century will have a greater impact on environmental protection than the Sydney 2000 Games”. The concept of Green Olympics derives from none other than Greenpeace, thanks to two architects close to the movement that designed an Athletes Village powered by solar energy. The non-governmental organization saw the Games as an opportunity to curb environmental degradation in Australia and show the feasibility of eco-sustainable solutions. Among the many successes of Sydney, we can certainly include the eco-sustainable Olympic Village, implementation of a public transport system, a water management system and a recycling plant.

While on paper it really does seem that everything in Sydney revolved around “green”, there were still a few grey areas. The momentum given by Greenpeace wass not fully exploited by the government and the IOC: Australians seemed to be unaware of this commitment on the environmental front, and there was no mention of it either at the opening or at the closing ceremony of the Games. Even on a practical level, the success of the Green Games seems to be a little less green: the final plan for the redevelopment of the Homebush Bay was strongly downsized in terms of eco-sustainability compared to the one presented at the time of the bid. Evident shortcomings even lead to Greenpeace taking a clear stance against the organizing committee, with the slogan “Green or Greed Games?”.

Despite criticism, from the point of view of the Olympic movement, the realization of the Sydney Games represented a turning point in terms of urban sustainability. In fact, all subsequent Olympic Games – both summer and winter – have taken up the challenge and submitted bids with environmental standards equal to or greater than those of Australia.

In the next episode we will focus on the four-year period 2002-2006, analyzing the environmental initiatives of Salt Lake City 2002, Athens 2004 and Turin 2006.


Robyn Briese (2001) Sustaining Sydney: The ‘Green Olympics’ from a global perspective, Urban Policy and Research, 19:1, 25-42

Walker J. Ross & Becca Leopkey (2017) The adoption and evolution of environmental practices in the Olympic Games, Managing Sport and Leisure, 22:1, 1-18

Cover picture credits: Janie Barrett/The Sydney Morning Herald

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