Harnessing sport as a form of activism to take a stance and demand change in the political arena is gaining traction. It’s called ‘sports activism’, and it seems like the new norm. But what exactly is it?


Sports activism is about harnessing movement, in any form, to advocate for social change by raising awareness and fostering dialogues around issues of injustice and inequality in society. 

There are a growing number of Australian-based organisations and campaigns that are using sports activism to demand change from our political leaders, particularly in the realm of environmentalism.

For Wild Places is hosting the Pilliga Ultra, a running event that seeks to raise awareness and funds to protect the Pilliga from coal gas steam mining.

The Fight for the Bight campaign saw surfers paddle out to make a powerful statement of their unity against Equinor’s draft plan to pursue deep-sea drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

And the recent takayna Trail Run raised funds to help the Bob Brown Foundation protect takayna/Tarkine against logging and mining.


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Successful campaigns have harnessed the power of sports activism. | Photo by Che Chorley

Clean Up Australia Day

Clean Up Australia Day’s a perfect example of the power of sports activism. The movement (pun intended) was started in 1989 by an ‘average Australian bloke’ who wanted to make a difference in his own backyard, Sydney Harbour, and has grown to become Australia’s largest community-based environmental event.

Ian Kiernan was an avid sailor, and his dream to sail around the world came true when he completed the BOC Challenge, now known as the Velux 5 Oceans Race – a round-the-world solo yacht race. During the race he was ‘shocked and disgusted’ by the pollution and rubbish he persistently encountered.

When Ian arrived back in Australia, he organised the first ‘Clean Up Sydney Harbour’ community event. This once local initiative has not only grown to be a nation-wide campaign, in which 33 million collective hours have been devoted by Australians towards cleaning up Australia, but has prompted ‘Clean Up The World’ initiatives. The latter was launched in 1993 following endorsement by the United Nations Environment Program. Clean Up The World now engages 30 million people across 80 countries – woah!


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FWP CEO Hilary McAllister (far left) and Co. following a Clean Up Australia Day event, submerged under the piers of Rye on Boon Wurrung Country


The annual event is held on the first Sunday of March – that’s this Sunday the 6th! With over 3300 registered events across Australia – from the Aquatic Club at Lord Howe Island, to Laverton in WA (where you can swim for free in the local aquatic centre post-event), there’s bound to be a clean up happening near you. This interactive map shows you where they’re happening.

Over the years, some really unique Clean Up Australia Day events have taken place. For Wild Places CEO Hilary McAllister has participated in a scuba dive, picking up rubbish under the piers of Rye on Boon Wurrung Country.

Obviously, this Sunday many Australians will be continuing the clean up effort from the devastating East Coast floods. With all this rain about, it’s fair to say that our rivers and creeks need our help more than ever!

For Wild Places Embraces Plogging to Clean Up Australia

This year, some of the For Wild Places crew are excited to be hosting a couple of ‘plogging’ (picking up rubbish while jogging) events for Clean Up Australia Day. With escalating concerns over the plastic waste crisis, plogging is a great way to help keep wild places free from the highly visible consequences of human consumption and the effects of a disposable society.


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The Take 3 for the Trail initiative encourages runners to pick up three pieces of rubbish every time they’re on the trails and share to social media to raise awareness


The best thing about plogging is that it isn’t restricted to the trails, and certainly isn’t restricted to only people who can run. Picking up rubbish can be done whilst walking, wheeling, skipping, hopping – wherever you decide to adventure outdoors.

If you’re around North Head in Manly, Curtis Oval in Dundas Valley, or Point Roadknight on the Surf Coast, we’d love for you to come along and join us as we pick up rubbish, have a chat and throw out some high fives at the end. Check out our blog to find out where you can join a FWP event.

Why is removing plastic so important?

Plastics do have their place in society. Their strength, flexibility, light weight, stability and ease of sterilisation have revolutionised many industries (such as medicine and hospitality). However, single-use plastics have unconsciously integrated their way into every aspect of daily life.

Did you know that the average length of a single-use item is 12 seconds? With plastics lasting between 20 and 500 years, the significant impact of their persistence is undoubtedly not worth their short convenience. There’s no shortage of media coverage and Netflix documentaries that demonstrate the impact that plastics are having on global marine and terrestrial environments.

This increased awareness has resulted in companies limiting the availability of single-use plastics, governments introducing legislation that ban single-use plastics, and hospitality businesses turning to biodegradable packaging.

Read more: 20 Hacks for Plastic Free Hiking (And Your Daily Life)


Clean Up Australia Day, sports activism, for wild places, take three for the trail, rubbish, litter, infographic, single use plastic, WWF

The life-span of common, single use plastics | WWF, 2018


Whilst this is all great, the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mentality is a little outdated. As a society, we need to REFUSE plastic. This ‘refuse’ mentality not only seeks to address the end-of-life impact of plastic, but also helps to tackle the much bigger issue of climate change.

The production of plastic is a fossil fuel-intensive process. The production of plastic is a fossil fuel intensive process. And many ‘biodegradable’ packagings aren’t, in fact, biodegradable – biodegradable packaging, such as PLA, will only degrade within a reasonable period of time when subject to a specific set of conditions which are only available at a commercial composting facility.

Biodegradable plastics aren’t degradable in marine or landfill environments, and behave like conventional plastics, eventually breaking down into microplastics, but never actually degrading. By refusing packaging (both plastic and biodegradable) through some simple lifestyle changes, we can stop the need for plastic production in the first place. It’s simple economics: if demand is high, then supply will continue. If demand no longer exists, there’s no need for supply. Happy days!

Catch Ya Out There!

So there you have it folks, throw on your runners (or flippers), pack your sunscreen, hat and plogging bag, and join the sports activism movement. We promise, you’ll meet some amazing humans along the way.

We reckon sports activism is a lifestyle, so why keep it to one day a year? Keep an eye out for more events by For Wild Places throughout the year.