Elite sports events are still largely closed to the world – but July 2020 has still been an unprecedented month for the global sporting calendar thanks to the world’s first Virtual Tour de France, which – despite the name – was based nowhere in particular, as riders took part from their homes in all parts of the world.
It’s historic, not just because the event brought together the world of esports cycling and the iconic and gruelling race – this was also the first time that women competed in a multistage Tour.
There were some key differences. Rather than being an individual race, it was run in teams, it was a lot shorter than the actual Tour and, most importantly, it involved cyclists sitting on their bikes indoors plugged into the Zwift virtual cycling system. Yet, for the audiences tuning in via YouTube, it’s easy to mistake it for an actual broadcast of a road race, as the graphics emulate the physical map and terrain of the route. Even the broadcast commentary was similar.
The Tour is the latest in a whole range of digital innovations that have brought sports into the homes of millions of people during the COVID-19 lockdown, when they all had to press pause on their physical events programmes.
Yet, the foundation for these experiments were laid in January, when the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, told all International Sports Federations to figure out their esports strategy. The urgency is all the more apparent when observing that all those sports sponsors – and broadcasters – are already aligning their brands with esports.
Coca-Cola, Intel and Samsung, among many others, are already highly invested in esports. David Beckham’s newly formed Guild Esports company announced it will establish a professional esports team for the 21st-century version of football, Rocket League, a videogame in which players race cars around an arena driving a ball towards a goal using the online platform Battlefy.
Virtually the same
COVID-19 has accelerated the alignment of elite sports industries with esports – and even those who previously dismissed esports as not being like real sport now have the IOC president to contend with. Bach noted that platforms like Zwift were absolutely the same as sports, suggesting a future in which virtual sport may be a bigger part of the elite sports scene. It may be no coincidence that the IOC’s Esports Liaison Group is chaired by the president of the International Cyclists Union, David Lappartient.
Soon after lockdown began, sports were racing to get in on the virtual action. Among the first was Formula One, which was nudged into producing “Not the Australian Grand Prix”, when its Melbourne race was cancelled. Teaming up with Veloce Esports, F1’s first digital event used its official computer game to produce a unique experience, where gamers, F1 drivers and celebrities came together to race the Australian track.
In April, the ATP and WTA organised an esports tennis competition instead of the Mutua Madrid Open, using Nacon’s Tennis World Tour video game. Again, some of the world’s biggest names came together to compete. Great Britain’s Andy Murray took the title.
Also in April, we saw the virtual Grand National take place for the fourth time. This year was special, as – thanks to COVID-19 there was no accompanying physical race. Instead, racing fans – and gamblers – could tune into YouTube and watch a race of computer-generated horses, all of which had been expected starters for the actual race. The winner was decided in advance of the start gun being fired, based on the rider’s previous form, day conditions, among other factors.
This algorithm-driven sport may not feel much like sport for many – but it worked. We can expect to see a significant amount of business generated from gambling opportunities around virtual sports.
Football was slow to get back on to the pitch, and many clubs began experimenting with in-stadia innovations. By the time players were back on the field – without spectators – some clubs had set up giant screens inside the stadium giving the impression of thousands of fans. Clubs also experimented with virtual reality to train players and real-time canned audience sounds became part of a new language of broadcast production.
The international basketball federation was next, producing the world’s first international esports version of its sport in May using the game NBA 2K. While the game has not previously impressed gamers, it did well to bring new audiences to basketball at a time when no live events were taking place.
Finally, there has also been a whole lot of esports happening during lockdown, occupying the space where many of these aspiring sports brands seek to locate themselves. Gaming has had a very good lockdown indeed – data shows that game sales and use have grown significantly over 2020.
New ways to play
Lockdown brought esports further into the mainstream – even the BBC broadcast events on its digital platform. We also saw how the creative and cultural industries are coming together around esports titles. Of note were the virtual concerts that took place in Fortnite, particularly the American rapper Travis Scott’s spectacular performance, which could only be seen live if you were logged in as a player within Fortnite, prompting fans to download the title just to see the concert.
In the same way that social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram are establishing new markets and audiences, esports and the virtualisation of sport are showing how new economies are emerging around novel, digital sports experiences through gaming platforms.
While many of the COVID-19 esports events from international sports federations have been more showcase events than elite competition, they have paved the way for a new normal to emerge, not just for participants, but for the many industries that produce media events.
Andy Miah is Board Member of the British Esports Association and Commission Member of the Global Esports Federation. Each of these roles is advisory and voluntary.
What would you take with you? Why possessions matter in times of war and displacement
The things that people are able to bring with them often take on a heightened significance, reflective of both their old and new lives.
In 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the second world war. By March of that year, about a quarter of the country’s total population had fled to safer locations in Europe.
The speed with which the war has escalated has seen Ukrainian citizens needing to flee, hurriedly and by any means available – including on foot. As is most often the case for those who find themselves displaced, most Ukrainian refugees could only take with them what they could carry.
The things that people are able to bring with them, therefore, often take on a heightened significance, reflecting their old and new lives following the severe interruption of war. The collection, display and engagement with these objects can transform otherwise unremarkable artefacts into sacred symbols, demonstrative of resistance and survival.
I spoke to Anna, a young Ukrainian currently living and working in Warsaw, Poland. She shared the items that she’d brought from her last visit to her family, who still live in Ukraine:
I have Ukrainian symbols – a magnet that says ‘Ukraine is my home’ and another with a sunken Russian ship as a reminder that the Russian state will go down, like its ship. Everything connected with my country is important to me, because it is my heart and soul.
In 2022, a Ukrainian culture magazine Bird in Flight produced a feature entitled Unnecessary Necessities, which documented the things taken by those evacuating their homes. Similar initiatives have emerged from the Syrian refugee crisis, and Tom Kiefer, who worked as a janitor at Customs and Border Protection, photographed the discarded objects of those attempting to cross from Mexico into the US.
Objects and memory
The notion of objects associated with war and genocide assuming the role of symbols or talismans has been widely researched. For several years, my own research has focused on material memories of the Holocaust. I am deeply moved by the items that survivors or descendants were able to carry or save, recover or reclaim, in order to provide a tangible bridge between the past and the present.
For instance, a gold wedding band unearthed close to the gas chamber area of the former Sobibor death camp in eastern Poland, inscribed with the Hebrew message: “With this ring, you are bound to me.” These items, so significant of the Jewish faith and of the loving relationships that the victims enjoyed before their murders, stand in place of their owners who lay silently in mass graves.
My participation in archaeological excavations at former killing sites also emphasised the importance of objects in restoring memory to the victims of political and historical brutality.
While much attention has been paid to the memorial culture of the second world war, lesser-acknowledged genocides still demand our attention. The crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing campaign throughout areas controlled by the army of Republika Srpska during the Bosnian War of 1992–95, for example, are often overlooked.
During the invasion of the town of Srebrenica, around 8,000 Muslim men, and boys over 12 years old, were murdered, resulting in one of the largest incidences of genocide in Europe. Over the course of the war, 100,000 people were killed, countless women and girls were raped and more than 2 million people were displaced.
One of those displaced people was Smajo Bešo. He was eight in 1993, and had already lived in the middle of a war zone for over a year. Between June 1992 and March 1993, the Bešo family fled their home village of Barane, moving back and forth between 14 locations in an attempt to stay safe.
As the violence against Muslims progressed towards genocide, Smajo’s father became targeted by Bosnian-Croat soldiers and was arrested. A number of Smajo’s closest relatives were killed, and, after several life-threatening situations, Smajo was eventually reunited with his father, who had survived in a concentration camp.
In 1994, his family arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne as refugees and Smajo has continued to share his story, recently receiving an OBE award for services to genocide education.
As part of my wider research into the material memories of genocide, Smajo informed me:
We didn’t bring many things with us, we pretty much had to leave everything behind. We had one photo album, with some of the most precious photographs, our house key and my mam kept her watch that my father gave her when they got engaged. The home is the most personal part of your life, where you feel safe, so having any trace of that was really important. It’s proof that your previous life was real, especially when there is denial. We existed, and our previous life existed, and it’s part of the healing process too. We left a part of us in Bosnia and this is how I connect to my past, but also how I rebuild myself.
Ultimately, Smajo’s story, in addition to those who suffered during the Holocaust or in the current war on Ukraine, serves as a reminder of why seemingly ordinary things matter in the context of war and displacement.
Not only are objects evidence of an event, but they facilitate activism and contribute towards memory making, both for the people who experienced it and those who seek to learn from them. As Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor and author Primo Levi concluded in his 1959 memoir, If This is a Man: “These things are part of us, almost like limbs of our body.”
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Hannah Wilson receives funding from Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.army gold mexico europe poland czech russia ukraine
How air pollution is making life tougher for bugs
We’re making life tough for insects – and not just by swatting them away with a newspaper.
Whether you love them or loathe them, we all depend on bugs. Insects help to pollinate three-quarters of the world’s crop varieties, making them a treasured resource.
But we’re making the lives of insects tough – and not just by swatting them away with a newspaper. Insect populations worldwide are in sharp decline as they battle against climate change, habitat loss and pesticides.
Now, we can add air pollution to the list of threats. Our research from 2022 revealed that when exposed to two common air pollutants at concentrations within EU air quality limits, the visits of pollinating insects to flowers plummeted by as much as 90%.
Over a span of two years, we artificially elevated the levels of either ozone or diesel exhaust fumes around plots of flowering black mustard plants, all within fields of non-flowering wheat. We carefully monitored and controlled the release of pollutants using rings constructed around each plot.
This method allowed us to monitor the number of pollinating insects visiting the flowers in polluted plots and draw comparisons with plots devoid of pollutants.
We were surprised by what we found. In the rings where we released ozone or diesel exhaust fumes, the number of pollinating insects decreased by 70% and overall pollination success rates decreased by up to 31%.
It wasn’t just bees and butterflies that were affected. Ground-dwelling insects suffered too, with exposure to these pollutants causing their numbers to decrease by as much as 36%.
Why air pollution makes life so hard
Many insects rely on their sense of smell to locate flowers. When they feed on nectar, they quickly connect the flower’s scent with its sugary reward. Consequently, when they come across the same scent later on, they track its trail in pursuit of another tasty treat.
Thus, flowers serve a dual purpose. They are not just pretty to look at but also function as beacons that release a specific blend of fragrant chemicals designed to attract pollinators.
But these signals are under threat. Air pollutants like ozone are highly reactive and can degrade the signals by destroying the chemicals that make up a flower’s scent.
In our more recent research, we simulated a floral scent in a 20-metre long wind tunnel and then mapped out how the levels of each of the chemicals that made up the scent changed in response to increasing ozone pollution. We found that ozone quickly ate away at the edges of the plume, reducing both its width and length.
Essentially, the chemical signal could travel only a shorter distance, which limited the number of insects it could reach.
Adding ozone also changes the smell of each of the chemicals that make up a flower’s scent. By observing these changes in a wind tunnel, we could measure the speed at which these chemical changes occur.
Some chemicals degraded within seconds, whereas others were not affected at all. How far away you are from the scent’s source appears to change how the scent smells.
To understand how changes to the floral scent might affect pollinators, we taught honeybees to recognise the same floral scent that we released into the wind tunnel. Much like Pavlov’s dogs drooling at the sound of a dinner bell, bees stick out their proboscis (tube-like tongue) when they sniff an odour they have learned to associate with a sugary reward. This allowed us to see how many bees could still recognise the floral scent once it had been exposed to ozone pollution.
We first tested the honeybees with scent blends replicating those observed at the plume centre when ozone levels were elevated. At a distance of six metres from the flower, 52% of bees recognised the scent. This fell to only 38% at a distance of 12 metres.
We then tested the response of honeybees to the more degraded plume edges. Only 32% of the bees responded at six metres, falling to just 10% at 12 metres.
These results help to explain the significant decline in the number and diversity of insect visits and pollination rates observed in our field trials. Put simply, ozone pollution limits the reach of chemical signals and changes their meaning, leaving insects confused.
But this is unlikely to be the full story. Although we replicated the effects of ozone pollution on floral scents, we never exposed the bees directly to ozone. Separate research carried out in France suggests that direct exposure to ozone might also impair the ability of bees to detect floral scents.
The full extent to which air pollution is impacting the insects we all depend on is only just beginning to be revealed. So, the next time you lift your newspaper to swat a bug, take a second and ask yourself – don’t they have it tough enough already?
Ben Langford receives funding from the Natural Environmental Research Council
James Ryalls has received funding from The Leverhulme Trust and The Royal Society to conduct research on this topic.
Robbie Girling has received funding to conduct research on this topic from the Natural Environment Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust and the Gerald Kerkut Charitable Trust.france eu
Fast fashion’s waste problem could be solved by recycled textiles but brands need to help boost production
Brands like Zara and H&amp;M are teaming up with recycled textile producers but more collaboration is needed.
Earlier this year, fast fashion retailer Zara released its first womenswear collection made of recycled poly-cotton textile waste. The collection is available for sale in 11 countries, helping clothing made of blended textile waste reach the mass market.
The collection came about after Zara’s parent company Inditex invested in textile recycler Circ. This follows a €100 million (£87 million) deal between Inditex and Finnish textile recycler Infinited Fiber Company for 30% of its recycled output. Zara’s fast fashion rival H&M has also entered a five-year contract with Swedish textile recycler Renewcell to acquire 9,072 tonnes of recycled fibre – equivalent to 50 million T-shirts.
There is a growing appetite among some fashion retailers to turn old clothes into high-quality fibres, and then into new clothes. But even though well-known brands are developing lines using recycled textiles, this movement has not yet reached the scale needed to have a truly global impact.
Before this recent growth in interest in textile recycling, fast fashion’s efforts to tackle throwaway attitudes towards affordable clothing often simply added to the global textile waste mountain – especially in developing countries, say campaigners like Greenpeace.
For example, a skirt deposited at a London chain store under a take-back scheme was reportedly found in a landfill in Bamako, Mali. This is not an isolated incident, it’s a sector-wide problem that sees old clothes being collected but not disposed of properly. An estimated 15 million used clothing items are shipped to Ghana each week from around the world and many end up in the country’s landfills. This is often referred to as waste colonialism.
The fast fashion industry needs greater access to recycled textiles to address this problem. But this means having the means to track “thrown-away” garments to collect those suitable for recycling. The industry also needs facilities that are big enough to turn this waste into new materials for clothing at the scale needed to meet mass market demand.
This is particularly important as these firms prepare for an EU crackdown on the region’s own waste mountain. Following the EU strategy for Sustainable and Circular textiles 2022, the European Commission is drafting new legislation over the next five years to make the fashion industry pay for the cost of processing discarded clothing.
Under the new EU rules, companies will be expected to collect waste equivalent to a certain percentage of their production. While the exact amount has not yet been confirmed yet, European commissioner for the environment Virginijus Sinkevičius has said it will “definitely” be more than 5% of production. Companies may have to pay a fee (reportedly equivalent to €0.12 per T-shirt) towards local authorities’ waste collection work.
But fast fashion brands must ensure that this doesn’t just dump the problem of textile waste into other countries’ landfills. Instead, developing lines out of recycled textiles could give these old clothes a new lease of life.
A Fashion Pact signed by more than 160 brands (a third of the sector by volume) commits companies to ensure that, by 2025, 25% of the raw materials such as textiles that they use have a low impact on the environment – recycled fibre is considered a low-impact material. Some brands have set more ambitious targets, including Adidas, which has committed to using 100% recycled plastics by 2024, and Zara-owner Inditex, which pledged to source 40% of its fibres from recycling processes by 2030.
These impending deadlines, plus the EU legislation, should motivate brands to use more recycled fibres. While the supply of such material is currently limited, an influx of recycling start-ups are finding ways to turn old clothes into new fibres that replicate the look and feel of virgin materials.
Start-ups like Spinnova, Renewcell and Infinited Fibre have developed chemical recycling technologies to create new fibres from cotton-rich clothing. And while cheap low-cost blended materials like poly-cotton are difficult to separate and recycle, firms like Worn Again, Envrnu, and Circ are tackling this problem, too.
Worn Again plans to build a new recycling demo plant in Switzerland, paving the way for 40 licensed plants by 2040, which would be capable of processing 1.8 million tonnes of textile waste per year.
Taking textile recycling from hype to reality
Up to 26% of Europe’s textile waste could be recycled by 2030, according to some estimates, according to a 2022 McKinsey report. This would generate €3.5-€4.5 billion in economic output for the EU, create 15,000 new jobs, and save 3.6 million tonnes of CO². But only 1% of textiles are currently being recycled globally into new clothes – the recycling technology needed for this shift is still in its infancy.
Part of the challenge in scaling up textile recycling to this degree is the lack of information available about what happens to clothes that are thrown away. Sharing data on the volume, locations and compositions of waste generated in the supply chain and collected post-consumption would help evaluate the full potential of textile recycling. Companies like Reverse Resources already provide online databases of information on textile waste – in this case for a global network of 70 recyclers, 44 waste handlers and 1,287 manufacturers in 24 countries.
Increasing textile recycling will require a collaborative approach, as will the development of the technology needed to create high-quality recycled textiles. Brands, investors, suppliers, recyclers, technology providers and local governments must come together to find ways to grow the textile recycling industry. The recent New Cotton Project that involves 12 brands (including H&M group and Adidas), manufacturers, suppliers and research institutes is a first step towards increasing textile recycling.
More money is also needed from all of these groups. To reach the recycling rate of 18%-26% by 2030, it will take billions in infrastructure investment for collecting, sorting and processing textile waste.
Textile recycling is no longer for a few “sustainable” fashion firms – it is quickly becoming a reality that no fast fashion firm can ignore. Shoppers must demand that the brands they love show their commitment to textile recycling beyond marketing campaigns and low-volume fashion collections.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.european europe eu
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