On Wednesday May 11 the Jessop room of the Gloucester County Cricket Ground was filled with an unusual crowd.
Club executives, fans and players sat alongside climate activists and campaigners. Both had come to hear a talk on an unlikely subject: climate change and cricket.
This was the inaugural event of a new project called Time to Declare, a series of free talks chaired by cricket author Richard Heller and journalist Tanya Aldred and covering subjects from the role of high carbon advertising in cricket to the sport’s colonial past.
Time to Declare is the result of the passionate work of Xeena Cooper, a long-time cricket enthusiast and more recently a climate campaigner.
‘Cricketing nations are being pummelled. They’re being totally pummelled,’ said Xeena, and she has a point. Famous cricketing countries like Australia, India, Pakistan and those in the West Indies are already facing disastrous effects of climate change, from wildfires to heat waves to rising sea levels.
Xeena said she wants to ensure cricket is there for future generations to play. ‘And we want them to look back at us and be proud that we did everything to make that happen for them,’ she said.
Xeena, 39, was inspired to take up climate campaigning after joining XR during their April Rebellion in 2019, which she described as a ‘totally mind-boggling experience.’
Launching the first XR Cricket Team, aka the Bristol Dodos, Xeena returned to London in October 2019 to play cricket on Parliament Square. It proved so popular as an outreach tool that Xeena was prohibited from playing by the sheer number of people coming to ask her about what was happening and wanting to know more. She knew she was onto a winner.
By chance a friend of Xeena’s was a member of Gloucester Cricket Club and opened discussions with the club about a joint venture to use street cricket to connect with young people to both encourage them to play cricket and to talk to them about the climate crisis. Unfortunately, just as plans were beginning to take shape the Covid pandemic struck.
Undeterred, Xeena reached out to others in the cricketing world who were asking the same questions as she was. A conversation with Russel Seymour, sustainability manager at Lords cricket ground, resulted in Xeena being invited to a series of webinars where she met others trying to link cricket and climate.
These connections and the conversations they inspired would, as the pandemic waned, become the basis for Time to Declare. As 2022 began, Xeena pulled the project together with support from Gloucester cricket club and funding from XR to pay speakers where necessary.
The first talk was given by Andrew Simms, co-director of the New Weather Institute. Simms gave an unflinching look into the harm done by high-carbon advertising in sport, from SUVs to flights to junk food.
Sponsorship by car companies and airlines is particularly rife in sport, with many top-league teams sponsored by the likes of Nissan, Volkswagen and Audi. Emirates airline is the second most common sponsor of sport in the UK. As well as the home of Arsenal FC their name appears on the stadiums of two cricket clubs and they sponsor the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Upcoming talks include “Fragile Earth: facts and solutions” by two local campaigners. On July 13, Russell Seymour discusses his 2019 Hit for Six report, a first-of-its-kind look at the impact of climate change on sport. Finally, on September 7, Roger Griffith MBE speaks on the “long shadow” of cricket history and the links between the sport, empire and climate.
Roger, who is CEO of Creative Connex and a lecturer at UWE, said his talk will blend history and empire with his own personal stories of growing up and finding identity through supporting the West Indies cricket team.
Drawing parallels with the war in Ukraine, Roger said that Western nations need to drop the ‘finger-wagging’ and have more understanding when it comes to countries taking necessary steps to avoid disasters like those they will face in the climate crisis.
Whilst it is easy to criticise countries like India for their continued trade with Russia, their reality is one of necessity. The West would do well, said Roger, to ‘acknowledge the sins of our past. Less of the finger-wagging and start sticking to our word and the international agreements, the latest of which was COP26.’
Looking to the future, Roger would like to see Western nations have ‘a little more understanding’ of the pressures that Global South countries will face in coming years, as well as those countries’ ‘justifiable concerns,’ as they bear the worst of the climate crisis.
Once completed, the talks will be made available on the website thenexttest.org and free to view. Xeena’s hope is that the site will become a hub for players, fans and anyone interested to learn more about the links between cricket and climate and to do something about it.
Xeena firmly believes in the power of sport, and cricket in particular, to change the world.
Cricket, she said, ‘shows us who we are. It shows us where we fit in our society, in our team.’ She adds that playing cricket can ‘empower people to feel like they can achieve things. We tell it to our kids but actually we forget when we’re adults that we can also continue striving.’
Whilst conversations about the climate crisis can all too easily become toxic and divisive, sport has a potential to unite people in common purpose
At a time when our nation’s future lies in the hands of a corrupt and selfish chumocracy of old-Etonians, the values represented in cricket – teamwork, cooperation and universality – may be more powerful than we think.
All talks in the series are free. Tickets are available via Headfirst.