Ben Ainslie has issued a rallying cry to elite sports and says success in football, cricket and Formula One should be measured by sustainability – not just performance.
Four-time Olympic champion Ainslie, 44, is the driver and CEO of the Great Britain SailGP Team competing in the pioneering SailGP Impact League.
The league is a revolutionary, world-first initiative that sees eight teams compete for two separate podiums and catapults environmental savviness to the forefront of determining success.
Alongside prowess on the water, crews including Britain, Australia and New Zealand battle it out for a place on an ‘impact’ podium at March’s San Francisco Grand Final across ten key areas of sustainability criteria.
It marks the first time a sport has placed sustainable action essential to its fabric and Ainslie, joined in the British boat by Olympic champions Paul Goodison and Matt Gotrel, insists other high-profile sports must urgently follow suit.
Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor of all-time, said: “I think it's huge.
“Sustainability will now become as important as the race on the water. It is a responsibility that we all have within our sport – to really take it seriously and lead the need for change.
“I really hope that other sports can look at the Impact League and embrace that into their own sports.
“We all know sports have a huge following around the world – sports stars are great role models and ambassadors for young people and future generations, and they are ultimately going to be responsible for taking on this challenge for future generations.
“For sports and sportspeople to really set that example is critical for societies around the world – and for young people to embrace that and see what's possible and take it on into the future.
“We would love to see [other sports implement the system] and I think that's the neat thing about this Impact League – it can relate to any sport.
“We going to need to see that level of change across all sports, and across all society, if we're going to meet the targets that we need to get on top of this global issue.
“We’re pushing seriously hard from within our own sport – and within SailGP and we expect the same from other sports.”
Official figures suggest over 800 million people across 570 low-lying coastal cities are at acute risk of flooding by 2050.
And those locations include SailGP venues including Plymouth, Saint-Tropez, and Sydney, three of nine locations to host races in the competition’s second ever season.
The eight competing teams will be externally audited based on the positive actions they make for a better planet, with the winning team crowned alongside the season champions and scooping a lucrative $100k of funding for its purpose partner.
Sports such as rugby already award bonus points for entertainment but as the climate change clock continues to click, Ainslie says it is time for a wake-up call.
The 11-time world champion added: “The statistics are clearly worrying – but the goal here is not to scare people.
“We're running out of time – 2050 sounds like a long time away, but it isn't. It is not that far away at all.
“Right now, change needs to happen – and we're proud of that within SailGP.
“We know that this is just a start – there's a huge amount of hard work ahead of us and it's only by that determination and focus that you bring to a sporting challenge, that we can bring about change.”
Ainslie steered the British boat to Bermuda Sail Grand Prix glory but will not feature at this weekend’s home soil showpiece in Plymouth.
Goodison, the 2008 Laser class Olympic champion, will deputise in his absence and lead a dynamic British crew including Gotrel – who won rowing gold in Rio – Neil Hunter and Richard Mason.
Ainslie reckons veteran Goodison, 43, has the tools to send the Devon crowd into raptures and added: “It's so exciting to race in in Plymouth.
“It’s got such great maritime history and is one of the best viewing platforms anywhere in the world.
“That’s a huge motivator for us as a team – to put on a good show. I know the guys have been training hard for this and with Paul steering the boat, I think they're going to be competitive.”
The Impact League is a new initiative designed to make sustainability action essential to the fabric of sport. To find out more about the Impact League visit S ailGP.com /ImpactLeague