Climate change in sports – An interview with cyclist Josephina Worrall

A photo of Josephina Worrall having a break on her bike next to the sea.

Can you tell us a bit about your background & how you’re involved in sports?

In my professional life, I’m a translator and content writer specialising in sustainability. I’m also a mum to a 3-year-old girl, and in the little spare time I have I really love to get out on my road bike. My involvement in road cycling is at a very amateur level, and I’m relatively new to it too – I only bought my bike 5 years ago – but I have fallen totally in love with it as a sport. For me, it’s a bit of a personal lifeline too. I have a chronic pain condition which can make it very hard for me to exercise (my previous favourites running and ballet are out of the question), and having previously been a very active person, that has been very difficult mentally to cope with. I discovered to my absolute delight however that cycling not only doesn’t worsen my pain, it makes me feel better overall. I’m currently training for the Big Ride for Palestine in Sheffield, which will be around 35-45 miles long. I’m up to 27-mile rides in my training and am loving the challenge.

Cycling is also weaving itself into my working life, as I have quietly started to translate cycling-related materials, which I love. I translate from French into English, and there are so many cycling events in French-speaking countries that there is plenty of demand for an English translator!

How important is sustainability to you, and what led you to become interested in this area?

Sustainability has been important to me for as long as I can remember, thanks in large part to my mum. Growing up, our house was full of eco-friendly cleaning refills, we had an unusually large number of compost bins in the garden, and most of our food was organic. Aside from a spot of teenage rebellion with a short-lived love of cheap fashion, the example my mum set directed the course for the rest of my life. Having my own child has made me even more determined to set a good example for her and fight for her and future generations.

In what ways have you seen the climate emergency affect your sport?

In some ways, cycling is the perfect sustainable pursuit and is touted as part of the solution, particularly as an alternative form of transport. However, on a bike you are very vulnerable, particularly to weather conditions. As temperatures rise and extreme weather becomes more common, conditions become less safe for cycling which prevents cyclists getting out on the road safely. In hotter parts of the world than the UK, it can be downright dangerous for your health to cycle, and as a person who struggles with fatigue, in warm weather I’m more likely to train inside using my turbo trainer (consuming electricity in the process). Decreased air quality can be very dangerous too. I’ve seen reports of cycling events being cancelled due to weather conditions, and I imagine this will only rise as temperatures increase and event organisers cannot guarantee rider safety.

Climate action charity Protect Our Winters UK have authored a report into climate change and the sport entitled “Downhill from here”, and if anyone is interested in reading more I would highly recommend it.

What steps are you taking personally to reduce your environmental impact?

In general, my family and I adopt the approach of “less”. Buy less, consume less. I buy second-hand everything where I can (I am somewhat obsessed with Vinted and antiques shops), and I try to carry this through to cycling. My road bike was a second-hand purchase that had only been ridden a couple of times, and I found most my cycling clothing on Vinted. Sometimes that’s not possible or safe – for example my helmet and the bike trailer I tow my daughter around in – and in those cases I take a mindful approach and try to find companies who produce sustainably. Luckily for me, choosing to cycle where I can rather than drive is an easy switch. I very rarely fly, taking holidays in the UK or choosing places in Europe that are accessible by train. I also don’t eat any meat and try to keep my consumption of animal products as low as possible. I could go on for ages!

Can you share any specific examples of events or seasons you know of that have been impacted by extreme weather or environmental changes?

Most of the examples that spring to mind immediately are mountain bike events, because mountain bike trails are more vulnerable to weather than roads designed for cars. For example in 2023, Red Bull Hardline, a tough downhill mountain bike event that was due to take place in Wales in July, was cancelled due to extreme weather conditions. There are questions about whether the main road cycling events, such as the Tour de France, will soon have to be moved to a different time of year as summer temperatures rise.

Do you believe the sports industry has a unique role to play in addressing climate change?

Done right, cycling has huge potential to get people out of their cars and cutting their emissions. Growing up, I firmly got the message that cycling was not for girls and felt self-conscious and utterly lacking in confidence on a bike. Now though, it feels like cyclists are everywhere (at least in my adoptive home of Yorkshire) and seeing so many amazing professional female cyclists competing at high levels has inspired me to leave the car at home much more often. Just imagine what our cities would be like – quieter, cleaner and with much better air quality – if everyone cycled everywhere and there was the infrastructure to support it.

How can sports events be made more sustainable without compromising on the excitement and engagement they offer fans?

Like seemingly every sport at the elite levels, cycling simply isn’t sustainable. The Tour de France is the biggest race in the world, and its environmental impact and carbon footprint is enormous. There’s the flights, the publicity caravan, all the single-use plastic… I don’t even know where to begin. The UCI Cycling World Championships is making all the right noises about sustainability, with the stated goal of becoming carbon neutral or negative, but time will tell how committed they are and how successful they will be.

What are the cobenefits you envisage that we could enjoy if we focused more on sustainability in this field?

To zoom out a bit and think about cycling as a sustainable mode of transport as well as a sport, the most obvious cobenefit is health. If we got everyone cycling the health benefits would be huge, improving quality of life and longevity and reducing the burden on the NHS caused by lifestyle-related diseases. It’s not just physical health that would improve either, the link between exercise and improved mental health is long established.

If we look at the cobenefits of making cycling events themselves more sustainable, health again would be the winner. For example, fans could be incentivised to take public transport or cycle to events.

Cycling could do with a change of image too. It’s renowned for being an expensive sport where you need an eye-wateringly expensive bike (or bikes!), several fancy jerseys, the coolest shades and all the latest gear – leading to a hugely polluting and unsustainable garment and accessory industry. This makes it not just unsustainable, but it also makes it seem financially inaccessible to the average person. There’s so much potential there to make cycling more accessible and bring about all those health benefits I mentioned, and drastically reduce its environmental impact at the same time.

Many thanks go to Josephina for sharing her views on this subject. I hope it has proven inspiring and enlightening. If you’d like to take part in this interview series, please do get in touch.

To follow or get in touch with Josephina, please reach out LinkedIn or Instagram.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the interviewee. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Native Crowd or its affiliates. The information provided is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. Readers are encouraged to explore their own views and to read as much as possible on this topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

English (UK)