Canada’s Oluseyi “Seyi” Smith is one of the rare athletes to have taken part in both the Games of the Olympiad, in athletics, and the Olympic Winter Games, in bobsleigh. Today he is an IOC Young Leader who is dreaming of a world with zero carbon emissions. His project is to combat the profusion of plastic objects (bottles, cups, etc.) in stadiums. This champion tells us how he is putting his sustainable development ideas into practice.
How did you get into sport?
Like most people, I got into sport because of my school. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I did all kinds of sports at school, and I was good at it. I think it was a teacher, when I was 12, who suggested that I join a local athletics club. Then we had a school Olympic day, and I did well. My teacher thought I could do even better with some training. So I joined the club and went from two days a week training to three or four days. Eventually I trained almost every day, and the rest is history. I took part in the London 2012 Games in the 4x100m relay, and then in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games in bobsleigh.
What have you gained from sport?
Apart from the health side, sport has given me a good mentality, a good approach to solving all kinds of problems. When you’re an athlete, if you want to be the best, you have to assume that all your rivals are doing just as much as you. You can’t get lazy. So sport has helped me learn to accept discomfort, in my job, in my everyday life. If I do something, I want to be the best, work the hardest at it. And I don’t think that’s very common.
What is your project as an IOC Young Leader, and how has Panasonic helped?
I’m doing a sustainability project with help from the IOC. It’s called “Racing to Zero YYC”. It’s a small project, and I know there are many bigger ones with the IOC and the United Nations on protecting the environment. But I wanted to keep mine local to the town I’m living in, Calgary. It’s simply to help the directors in local meets, as well as the athletes, their parents, friends and officials, to try to be more sustainable in how they operate the meet. But also to educate as many people as possible on what’s being done around the world.
Panasonic support the IOC’s Young Leaders Programme, and they made a big difference. For example, I had Panasonic do a video of my project. They interviewed me and helped me explain to other people in a very slick and professional way. The best and most valuable help from Panasonic was expanding the reach of our voice through the support of their teams.
How does the Racing to Zero YYC project work?
The first thing is to get people aware about excessive use of plastic. Because it’s easy to count and to collect. The first goal is to reduce the use of plastic bottles at the track. I bought a mobile fountain for the stadium so that people didn’t have to use plastic bottles. I also created a checklist for athletics meeting directors, to track and measure how sustainable the meeting is and then compare the results with other organisers, to create a bit of competition to see who can be the most sustainable.
The last part concerns the spectators. I created another kind of checklist which is more of a game. They can go to different sections of the stadium, and they are questioned on how much water they use, or what happens to coffee cups when they throw them away. Just to give them small bits of information that they might not know and help them understand that they can have an impact, even if it’s small. And the incentive is that people who answer all the questions correctly get a small prize from our National Olympic Committee.
What’s your motivation for this project?
I’m an electrical engineer by background, but sport has always been part of my life. So I wanted to find a way that I could mix both sport and my degree, which is in electrical engineering and renewable energy, all into one project. When the IOC offered support to people to think of ways to make an impact through the IOC Young Leaders Programme, it made sense to me to use this opportunity.
What has been the biggest impact of your project, and what are you most proud of?
It’s difficult to talk about impact, because right now COVID-19 is having the biggest impact on my community and everywhere else. Because all the athletics meetings have been cancelled, there’s no way for me to actually measure anything at the moment. But I would say that, at the very minimum, I was able to install a water fountain at the track; so when people go there in the summer, they will no longer have to buy plastic bottles, they can refill their bottle at the track. The other impact is just the awareness, in the local community, about sustainability. I’ve had a lot of phone calls and meetings to introduce my project. I think that this will lead to greater awareness about the carbon footprint of future events.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
My hope would be to actually be able to continue delivering my project when COVID-19 is under control. But in the long term, I hope I can expand it beyond athletics and have it affect other sports at grassroots level, to try to create a better environment for the planet. And I hope I’m able to learn more about what’s being done across the world so I can be inspired by some of the best practices from Europe, Asia and everywhere else.