Thorsby named BBC Green Sport Young Athlete of the Year

Norwegian footballer Morten Thorsby has been named Young Athlete of the Year at the BBC Green Sport Awards.

Thorsby is the first recipient of an award which recognises a young sportsperson who is either professional or on a pathway to elite sport and has proactively demonstrated support for environmental and/or climate change issues.

The 26-year-old midfielder, who plays for German team Union Berlin and Norway, has been balancing his football career with his work in engaging others in the climate change conversation.

In 2020 he founded the We Play Green Foundation – a non-profit organisation specifically aimed at bringing together footballers and galvanising climate action in the football industry.

Having begun his professional career at Norwegian side Stabaek in 2013, Thorsby moved to the Netherlands to join Heerenveen, where his environmental work began when he convinced the club to buy bikes for the players.

Thorsby joined Italian side Sampdoria in 2019, and two years later changed his squad number to two in recognition of the Paris Climate Agreement objective to keep global warming below 2C.

He said: “After that we had a new target, which is the 1.5 degree target. That is even more difficult and even better, of course. I would like to put the 1.5 on my shirt but that is impossible.”

Morten Thorsby made his debut for Norway in 2017

Thorsby admits he has not always found it easy to combine his passions for the environment and football.

“I started to read about all these things and it became kind of overwhelming when I started to understand all the problems and the huge challenge that was in front of us and humanity,” he said.

“It came to a moment where I actually, in 2015-2016, considered quitting my career. I wanted to do everything I could. I just felt hopeless, being a football player and doing such a great individual project as being a professional athlete when we have this huge crisis.”

Thorsby is well aware that individuals can’t make the difference alone.

“We need systematic change, and we need our decision-makers to make it easier for us to make these decisions because I know how difficult it can be,” he said.

But at the heart of Thorsby’s work is an awareness of the platform he and his fellow footballers have to influence change.

He said: “I think it was my father who told me: ‘Morten, the best thing you can do for the environment is actually becoming as good as possible in football and keep speaking up about these issues and create a platform where you can speak.'”

That is exactly what he has done with the We Play Green foundation.

“I would like to see footballers engaging with this, understanding the impact they could have if they really engaged,” he said.

“We will quickly take that experience I had with actually speaking about this, take the experience from the other people doing this, and create a common movement among players to actually drive this force forward.

“The difference between players and the normal person in the street is, of course, the huge platforms the players have to speak out because they’re football players, and football players are actually the biggest influencers on the planet.”

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