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Shifting tide of influence

Published on July 14th, 2022

The early days of social media were innocent enough, but the medium has grown to give everyone a voice which can create a lot of noise. Influencers make mad money while divisive opinions prevail.

Everyone has become an expert, particularly athletes, as a study undertaken by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) showed that the cultural and global influence of athletes far outweighs that of politicians. Is that a good thing?

Embracing this trend is Brit Hannah Mills, the most successful female sailor in Olympic history, who is preaching how athletes must use their powerful global platforms to promote meaningful change.

“It is no longer acceptable to just be an athlete,” said Mills. “With the rise of social media and the visibility and the reach that many athletes have, you’re such an influence over the people that follow you and your sport and that’s a huge responsibility to be showcasing the right qualities.

“That just shows how big a responsibility athletes and sport have to be leading by example in showing what needs to happen. We need to be the communicators and the people that are getting those messages out there and we have the profile and the platform to do that.”

Mills, who is a three-time Olympic medalist and International Olympic Committee (IOC) sustainability ambassador, recalled her experience campaigning for the Rio 2016 Olympics, in which she was ‘blown away’ by the damage and plastic pollution of the coastline.

“It was eye opening, and I think everyone at some point has that moment that clicks in terms of climate change and sustainability and that was it for me.”

She consequently used her platform as an Olympic athlete to push out messaging around sustainability before setting up her own campaign, the Big Plastic Pledge.

“It’s not enough to just make these statements, it’s about how you actually back that up and ensure that happens,” she said. “I believe through the power of sport, we can change the fate of our planet.”

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