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Rising star in British athletics to sit out world championship in Australia over 'deep climate concerns'
25 January 2023, 19:32 | Updated: 25 January 2023, 19:51
A rising star in British athletics has said she won't travel to Australia for a world championship due to her “deep concern” for the environment.
Innes Fitzgerald, 16, is being described as the Greta Thunberg of sport after she wrote to British Athletics informing the body that she wouldn't be taking part in the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, New South Wales.
“The reality of the travel fills me with deep concern,” she said.
Fitzgerald, from Devon, is one of Britain's most promising athletes. The runner set a national under-17 record for 3,000 metres and in December she bagged a fourth-place finish at the under-20s European Cross Country Championships in Turin, where she competing against athletes three years older than her.
For a significant part of the race she led the field, but explained after that the fatigue she experienced later may have been due to the 20-hour journey to get to northern Italy.
To avoid flying, Fitzgerald took an overnight coach to Lille, then travelled by train via Paris to reach Turin, and her family took folding bikes to finish the journey between train stations in Paris.
This month, the rising star athlete missed the British trials in Scotland for the World Championship.
In her letter to British Athletics she said having the opportunity to compete for Great Britain down under is "a priviledge".
She added: “When I started running, the prospect of me competing in the World Cross Country Championships would have seemed merely a dream. However, the reality of the travel fills me with deep concern.
“I would never be comfortable flying in the knowledge that people could be losing their livelihoods, homes and loved ones as a result.
"The least I can do is voice my solidarity with those suffering on the front line of climate breakdown. Coming to a decision has not been easy, however little compares to the grief I would feel taking the flight.”
Explaining her decision, she told Athletics Weekly: “My family is as environmentally minded as I am. We live in a passive house on a smallholding [near Exeter] growing fruit and vegetables.
Check out the true leadership & 'service to planet' embodied here, by Innes Fitzgerald— Champions for Earth 🌍 (@Champions4Earth) January 20, 2023
(our '2022 Youth Champion FOR Earth'🏆)https://t.co/qmyTV8IW0G
If you identify as an athlete, past or present, pls also see our inspiring & informative event programme lined up. See thread
"So my dad was happy for us not to fly. Aviation is the most energy intensive activity we can do and explodes a person’s carbon footprint. I don’t want that on my conscience.”
Champions for Earth, an organisation for environmentally friendly athletes, acknowledged that having to decide not to go was "torturous" but commended Fitzgerald's courage and commitment to the environment. “The Exeter Harriers runner is a champion in more ways than one, winning impressively on the running track and in the world of environmental protection," it said.
“Innes was crowned the 2022 Youth ‘Champion For Earth’ for her commitment to pursuing her sporting goals as sustainably as possible.
“She is looking for sponsors and supporters who can help her with the more expensive public transport, accommodation and eco-friendly kit that she requires.
"It is clear that Innes has the steely determination and focus, combined with the courage and clarity to face a reality quite different to athletes of previous generations.
It added: “As a young person with Olympic dreams growing up during a climate and ecological emergency, she is balancing the dream of one day becoming a champion of the world, with a determination to be a champion for earth.”