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World Athletics Receives ISO 20121 Certification For Its Sustainable Event Management System

Fans fill stadium at the World Athletics Championships on July 23, 2022 in Eugene, OR, USA

World Athletics has announced that the Sustainable Event Management System (SEMS) it has developed to embed sustainability into events across the sport has achieved a globally-recognised standard developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

The SEMS has received certification for the ISO 20121 standard, which sets out a comprehensive framework for tackling priority sustainability risks and opportunities.

Developed in the run-in to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the standard addresses reducing costs, limiting carbon emissions and waste, managing the biodiversity of venues, respecting human rights and achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce.

To achieve certification, an organisation needs to demonstrate that its management system has considered all key financial, economic, social and environmental issues relevant to its operations to reduce its impact on the environment and contribute towards a stronger and more just society.

The certification was awarded by BSI, a global leader in ISO standard compliance, after a rigorous two-phase audit process that assessed how the sustainability management system at World Athletics integrated sustainability into key aspects of an event’s planning and delivery. The system must also illustrate that it can track progress to ensure full compliance with the standard’s requirements moving forward.

“Having this robust independent review of the processes and systems we’re putting in place lends a lot of credibility to our efforts in making our events more sustainable,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. “It shows that the path we’re creating for all our events is the right one.”

  • System unveiled in 2021

The Sustainable Event Management System (SEMS), which provides detailed guidance in 15 key areas of event planning and delivery, was introduced to World Athletics licensed one-day meetings, tour events, label road race organisers and organising committees of upcoming World Athletics Series events in November 2021, alongside the Athletics for a Better World (ABW) Standard, an evaluation that measures and scores an event’s achievement in sustainable delivery in alignment with the World Athletics Sustainability Strategy.

The Athletics for a Better World Standard, which is currently in its second pilot year, will be tiered, with platinum, gold, silver, bronze and recognised event achievement levels that will eventually have to be met as part of the evaluation process of all World Athletics-licensed events from 2024. Cities bidding to host upcoming World Athletics Series events, for which bids launched in the latter half of 2022, will be required to commit to a gold-level achievement, making sustainability a core feature of all future World Athletics Championships events.

Organisers of more than 300 one-day competition series events and label road races have been introduced to the system and the Athletics for a Better World Standard since it was unveiled. Several dozen piloted the system and standard in 2022 and more than 50 are expected to pilot it in 2023.

The system is also being incorporated into the delivery of all World Athletics Championships and increasingly into all World Athletics Series events.

Organisers of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, who announced their sustainability programme last week, are the first LOC to fully embrace the Athletics for a Better World standard. Organisers of the World Athletics Indoor Championships Glasgow 24 have also announced their strong ambitions in delivering against the standard.

  • Resources and ongoing support

The system’s central resource, a detailed SEMS best practice guidance which can be downloaded from the Information Hub section of the Sustainability home page, is currently available in 13 languages: Arabic, Bengali, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili. Amharic and Italian versions will also be available shortly.

Since the system’s launch, World Athletics has also hosted a dozen sustainable event webinars and info sessions for race and event organisers, developed a steadily growing online resource centre, and is creating an information hub of case studies and best practice examples on the World Athletics website.

World Athletics will continue to provide support for organisers via one-on-one meetings, an ongoing webinar series, a range of e-learning modules and visits to live events.