In January, Bohemians unveiled a unique new signing. 

Sean McCabe, wearing the famous ‘Refugees Welcome’ away jersey, had become the Dublin club’s Climate Justice Officer. 

The newly created position is the first of it’s kind in the world of football. It highlights the importance of putting fairness and community at the heart of sport’s efforts to tackle climate change.

I caught up with Sean to find out more about his new role.

What does climate justice mean?

“I think we’re just beginning to get our heads around what sustainability means. It’s about people and planet; lots of people who care about it want to save the planet, but forget that it’s the people living on the planet that matter!

With climate action, what we’re often looking at is large multinational corporations doing the whole thing and communities just being the recipients of what gets done, rather than the owners.

When it comes to climate justice, it’s basically understanding that solutions to climate change have to be fair, have to be equitable, have to be inclusive. They have to share the benefits; the benefits can’t be concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.”

Why is climate justice relevant to football?

“I think football has always been a place where communities have organised and rallied around their teams. Communities are where football clubs draw their legitimacy and support from.

With climate change, football clubs and communities are embarking on an enormous transition. We can’t do that unless everyone’s included, and people’s lives get better as a result. Unless that transition is fair, it’s going to fail. We have to make sure that justice is at the bottom of it.

If ever there was a platform to promote a people-centred approach, it’s football. It’s an opportunity to not only educate, but walk the talk. To make sure that climate action taken by the club gives back to the fans as well.

I think we’re bringing football on a journey, it’s very new for clubs and fans so we have to start slowly. But the message has to be this is about things that are good for the planet, good for clubs, and good for fans. There are no losers. If we do it wrong, everyone loses.”

We have some brilliant pioneers, particularly Marcus Rashford, highlighting poverty and inequality and what that does to communities. Football clubs should see their role as empowering communities, making sure that things like child poverty cannot exist in a sustainable world. They can do that if they take the climate justice dimension seriously.”

How did you first get involved with Bohemian FC?

“Bohs is completely fan owned. I’m a member, so like every other member, I’m a part owner of the club! We’ve been thinking about how the club could help in the fight against climate change for some time, including a meeting with Hibernian FC last year, to learn about what they were doing. Taking up the role was an obvious fit and I’m delighted to be able to do it!

I have been working on climate justice for over a decade, I worked on the Paris Agreement with Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, we were very focused on getting human rights language included.

After that I set up the TASC Climate Justice Centre here in Dublin, my work has focused very much on applied climate justice, how do we get people and communities involved. I recently published a report called the People’s Transition, focused on participative democracy approaches to climate action, meaning communities actually end up owning the climate action.

Having taken on the role here, I’m now looking around and thinking, ‘there’s so much interesting stuff to be done here.’ With Bohs, it feels like if there’s a good thing worth pursuing, they’ll pursue it, and let the cards fall where they may. The amount of attention it’s garnered already is phenomenal.”

How have you found that attention since your appointment?

“It’s got a mixed reaction it’s fair to say! Some people have been delighted with the announcement, some people not so much and can’t see any relevance to football. I totally get that, I think it’s a very positive thing.

When people are questioning the relevance, it means you are communicating to a whole new audience and that to me is very exciting. People are disillusioned with politics and media, but sport is evergreen. If we can bring sustainability and climate justice into sport, we have an opportunity to reach new people and bring football fans along.

I’ve had messages asking why the club has blown its transfer budget on a Climate Justice Officer. It’s good fun; you don’t bring anyone along with you by taking yourselves too seriously. We have to find ways of doing this that keeps the romance of the game. That’s not an easy challenge but it’ll be an interesting one.”

What are you hoping to work on in your new role?

“Learning, first and foremost, about what other clubs are doing, about how the club is operating. We’ll make haste slowly, moving on the sustainability piece. Reduce your environmental impact, carbon footprint, plastics. As we evolve, lets look at ways we can bring the fans with us and start taking action that could be transformative.

But I’d love to move the conversation in football on to justice. Making sure the society we transition to is fairer than the one we live in now. There’s all sorts of ways you can do this, maybe the most obvious example is when it comes to solar power. If you’re going to put solar on your stadiums, why not share the benefits of that with the communities around the stadium?

With TASC I have 2 pilot projects to run around the People’s Transition, which might intersect with the club because it’s being done with people around the club. There may be interesting opportunities around participation, including people in designing the future of their community, maybe even the future of their club. That would be cool.

I’m also looking at ways in which Bohs can collaborate on various initiatives focused on sustainable development, and opportunities to push campaigns through football networks. Currently there’s no human right to a healthy environment, and the convention on the rights of the child don’t include environment either, something that should change obviously. I think there’s a compelling story to tell there.”

What message would you send to other football clubs?

“There’s a great interview with Sir Alex Ferguson when he took the United job. He put the club at the heart of the community. He’s saying, if the players remember how important the club is to the community who support us, then we’ll have a good chance of doing well.

Never has this been more important than facing climate breakdown. We need leadership from everywhere. Clubs owe their communities everything, so they have to give back.

If clubs recognise that they do not exist in isolation but are completely dependent on their fans and communities, then they need to show leadership.

Justice is where this happens, justice is how clubs can deliver, making sure that nobody is left behind, that communities benefit, a just transition for everyone.”

You can find out more about Sean’s appointment here.

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