Chris Broadbent – Planet Earth Games
Written by Livi Woosey
Photos of Chris Broadbent by Dominic Hughes and supplied by Planet Earth Games
Chris Broadbent is a fascinating and ambitious character. He has worked at two Olympic games, shared a shuttle bus with Usain Bolt and is currently organising the world’s first environment themed multi-sport event, aptly named Planet Earth Games. On a dreary and wet day, Chris and I met and discussed the motivation behind the event, what he hopes to achieve and his long-term goals looking into the future. I left inspired by his drive and determination to prompt a much-needed change in the sport industry while positively impacting the Exeter community. If you don’t believe me, go along to the Planet Earth Games and see for yourself!
Since going to school in Newton Abbot as a child, Chris has called many a place home, from Edinburgh to London, with Birmingham and Doha in between. He is now settled with his wife and twins in the quaint town of Bovey Tracey. It is his passion for sport that has taken him all over the world and he has now worked in the industry for 21 years. He explained that there is no going back now,
“I’ve worked at all levels of the sport and I just love it.”
In 2008 he was given the opportunity to work at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games as Media Manager of the athletics team. The role was an incredible experience and placed him right at the heart of the action, particularly as he was living in the Athletes’ Village. He had to pinch himself at times, most notably when he found himself on a shuttle bus with Usain Bolt just hours before his race was watched by millions of people and he smashed a world record.
“At the time I really played it cool, but I do wish I had taken a selfie with him.”
Of course the atmosphere was very tense and working sixteen-hour days meant it was still very hard work. Chris described the role as one like no other,
“When you are working with British athletes winning medals, that is one of the greatest moments of their life. I was sharing that moment of their life with them. They were using my phone to call home and speak to their families. You could hear the screaming coming out of the phone. I was stood there thinking wow this is a moment they will never ever forget and you almost feel intrusive.”
During his time working in athletics Chris became a keen runner and since then his career has somewhat mirrored his personal life. When his kids were little he moved on from athletics and working with elite athletes to a position as Head of Marketing for Water Babies Ltd, an organisation teaching little ones how to swim. Upon the twins starting school he then turned his focus from activities for early years to youth sport. It was this shift that took him to the South West Youth Games Trust.
Being very active himself Chris firmly believes in the importance of physical activity for all. As well as the obvious physical benefits it also has a positive effect on mental health and great social benefits. Whether you are going for gold or just using your bike to get to work, we can all benefit from getting outside and engaging in some form of exercise.
This was the premise behind the South West Youth Games, which has developed from a competitive sport event to one focussed on involving young people who are not engaging in physical activity. Chris said,
“Initially kids would come along and take part in netball, hockey and football, have a great day and win their medals. At the end of the day they would leave saying ‘see you next week at the league meeting’. We came to realise our contribution to their involvement in sport was honestly very little so we stopped preaching to the converted and changed our rules. We focussed on young people who were not engaged in sport and activity and made a difference to them.”
This new focus came with great success. Last year at the South West Youth Games they managed to get 1000 young people involved who were not members of clubs but then went on to join. They were having a positive impact and reducing the risk of childhood obesity in Exeter and the South West.
However, the ambition to bring positive change to young people and the community as a whole did not end there. Market research conducted at the end of last year’s games with participants and parents revealed that the environment is an issue that young people care a lot about. Since then we have seen the Youth Strike 4 Climate movement grow and people take a greater interest in what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Chris explained
“We saw a chance to work with young people on the issue they most care about.”
And so was born Planet Earth Games. This is the world’s first environment themed multi-sport event and will be held at the Exwick Sports Hub and Flowerpot Playing Fields on 6th July. The activity element has in no way diminished as there will be a number of sports from tennis, football and rugby to skateboarding and paddle boarding. The environmental sustainability aspect has come much more to the forefront of the event and attendees will find local environmental initiatives being showcased at the Village Green (pun intended!).
Chris described the Trust as going through their own ‘blue planet moment’. While last year they were importing medals from China and bulk ordering crates of water bottles, this year the aim is to be much more mindful of their carbon footprint. The event will be free from single-use plastic with all participants encouraged to bring reusable water bottles that can be refilled on site. The medals have also been made from recycled materials and there will be litter collections throughout the day. Not only will they leave no trace, Chris is determined for the site to be left cleaner than they found it. He has not only improved the South West Youth Games, but completely revolutionised it!
When I asked Chris about his personal attempts to ‘go green’ and the motivations behind Planet Earth Games he explained,
“A few years ago I wasn’t as tuned into the environment as much as I should have been. I have been influenced by recent talk surrounding it in the media and our participants have been influenced by it. Being more mindful of the environment is just the right thing to do. We have found an opportunity to address an issue which young people care about, engage them and educate them on the environment.”
This being a recent change for Chris himself, his work with Planet Earth Games has really pushed him out of his comfort zone. He has a wealth of expertise in sport but the environmental aspect is very new to him. However, on meeting with bigger national organisations across the sport and leisure industry, he has found that Planet Earth Games is in something of a trailblazing position in the sector.
Chris has taken a bold step in an effort to set an example for the rest of the sport industry to follow. He says,
“You have to be prepared to get your head above the parapet a bit. We have made commitments of no single use plastic, to use recycled materials where possible, to leave no trace with our litter picking plogging activities and to be at the forefront of sustainability in sport. But this is a model we want to evolve year on year. Carbon footprint, air pollution, sustainable palm oil and even a sustainable diet are all areas that interest us. We want to stay at the forefront of sustainability, but most importantly, we will always be driven by what is the right thing to do.”
There is a very clear link between sport and the environment. If people want to get outside and take part in sport, they need a clean atmosphere in which to do it and sustainable means of taking part. If we fail to look after the waterways, rivers, oceans, moors, and fields, how can we expect people to use these spaces for sport and physical activity?
While Chris is therefore seeking to educate young people in the South West about the environment and also get them active, his long-term goal is to revolutionise sport as a whole. The industry consumes a lot of materials in order to deliver their events and activities. This is not sustainable and going forward there needs to be a rethink in sport. Planet Earth Games can be used as a model and he hopes for the idea to be taken into schools, communities and corporate events. Chris added,
“We’ve got really big ambitions and I think we can do it. Planet Earth Games has got real scalability.”
The response so far to the event has been very positive and the community have fully embraced the mission and the concept is proving to be popular. Chris explains that being based in Devon serves to benefit them because,
“People are passionate about the environment. There is a real appetite to look after the environment, particularly because we have got oceans and moors nearby.”
They may be a small charity but they have got a big vision. Planet Earth Games is set to be an authentic, engaging and fun event at the forefront of a much-needed change.