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Pedalling towards sustainability: The impacts of the UCI Cycling World Championships on Glasgow

By Claire Thomson

Was the UCI Cycling World Championships hypocritical; or rather something Glasgow, and Scotland generally, should grasp with two hands?

Glasgow is renowned for hosting large-scale, highly successful and atmospheric sporting events, with this summer being no exception. As the world of cycling descended on Scotland’s largest city for 11 days of exhilarating competition, Glasgow rose to the occasion, taking advantage of this opportunity to promote sustainable transport and greener energy as well as attempt to tackle global issues through the means of sport. Professional cycling events are no stranger to travelling through cities, around countries in the form of Grand Tours such as the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, meanwhile drawing in massive crowds and media attention. However, with the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow this summer concentrated on just one small area of the country and the popularity of these events on the up, it’s important to consider the impact of such a large-scale and multi-discipline sporting event on the environment and local communities within the host city. 

As crowds line the streets and roads and media coverage spans the globe, the environmental implications of events, such as the UCI Cycling World Championships, can easily be overlooked. The logistical demands of hosting such races, involving the movement of teams, media, fans and support staff around the course, often require substantial energy consumption and result in carbon emissions, arguably mitigating the positive effect of promoting cycling as a sustainable form of transport. The construction and dismantling of infrastructure for these events, for example, temporary stages, electronic finishing systems, hospitality areas and promotional displays, can contribute to waste generation and general disturbance of local ecosystems, especially in more remote landscapes and countryside areas, that do not often experience an increase in footfall. Moreover, the significant increase in vehicle traffic, including team buses, support vehicles, and media caravans, can place a strain on local road networks and exacerbate air pollution. This was a particular issue in Glasgow as notable road closures to accommodate race routes in and around the city caused disruption of daily routine and access to essential services as well as resulted in traffic diversions and an augmented volume of traffic on alternative roads. 

There is no doubt that this event has inevitably brought economic benefits to Glasgow through increased tourism and spending, yet it is important to remember that it also created challenges for local residents. Aside from travel disruption, noise and congestion from the events, along with the influx of visitors, can lead to inconveniences and a decreased quality of life for local residents. Many students at the University of Glasgow were forced to work from home, where possible, and the student reliance on public transport, in particular buses, was heavily impacted by the closure of the likes of Gibson Street, Byres Road and University Avenue. It was important for Glasgow to strike a balance between the excitement of the race and the needs of the community to maintain positive relations. 

Despite the negative impacts that will remain at the forefront of the conversation for some people, it is important to take into account the steps that were taken by Glasgow City Council and the UCI in order to reduce the impact of the event on the environment. In November 2022, the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships became a signatory of the United Nations Sports for Climate Change Action Framework, with the ambition for the event to be a leader in environmental innovation and sustainable development in sport. The event focused on #PoweroftheBike and a goal to effect transformational change by using its global platform to encourage and inspire more people to ride bikes and demonstrate how cycling can be one the greatest weapons against climate change. 

University of Glasgow Triathlon Club commented on the effectiveness of the event: “For the public, it’s a great way of promoting cycling as a sustainable form of transport, especially in terms of encouraging more people to cycle, for example, during the event cycling was the best way to move around the city and Glasgow City Council provided free nextbikes.” However, even as a sports club, who travel and compete across the globe, the club didn’t fail to highlight the damaging effect of professional sports on the environment as they declared. “We can’t ignore the unsustainable aspects of professional cycling in the sense of the carbon emissions that are created from these events and how much air travel is involved in many professional sports.” It’s important to remember that cycling is not alone in this. 

From an alternative point of view, UofG Evergreens, the environmental society at the University of Glasgow stated a similar opinion, yet offered a different approach to Glasgow and the hosting of large-scale sporting events in the city. 

“After a lot of deliberation, we feel that the Cycling World Championships has promoted cycling as not only a recreational sport but a means of transport and leisure. However, the hosting of the sport in Glasgow, specifically, which is Scotland’s biggest city and has the highest population density, causes major disruption to daily lives, particularly on the roads, where commuters have to take diversions or other means of travel due to all the attraction and increase in the city’s popularity. The event as its core is effective, but hosting it in a smaller city, such as Stirling or Aberdeen, would have been more effective in showcasing different areas of Scotland, whilst infrastructure still benefits and the Scottish people have fewer disturbances.”

With the event over and only the legacy remaining, there has been a lot of discussion and speculation about whether Glasgow or Scotland should be hosting large-scale sporting events, aware of the impact on climate change and the environment. For a lot of athletes, participating in these championships and having the chance to compete for their country is a dream come true and in some cases a once in a lifetime opportunity. Therefore, the host city, country and residents should look at this as a pleasure and showcase what the place has to offer. Regardless of the sport or the event, somewhere has to host these and as long as action is being taken to minimise the negative impacts of these, why in the future can it not be Glasgow and Scotland?


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