British distance running talent refuses to fly to Australia next month due to environmental concerns

Innes FitzGerald, Britain’s leading junior female endurance athlete, has written to UK Athletics to ask not to be considered for the team for the World Cross Country Championships in Australia. “The reality of the travel fills me with deep concern,” she says.

The 16-year-old from Devon placed fourth in the under-20 women’s race at last month’s European Cross Country Championships against much older rivals. But she made headlines at the event after it emerged she had travelled by train from her home near Exeter in Devon to Turin in Italy because of a reluctance to fly.

This month she missed the British trial in Scotland for the World Cross – with Megan Harris and Ed Bird winning the junior races – and has ruled herself out of the event. Champions for Earth, an organisation for environmentally-friendly athletes, described it as a “tortured decision to decline” a spot on the team.

“To have the opportunity to compete for Great Britain in Australia is a privilege,” FitzGerald said. “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.”

Innes Fitzgerald and Maria Forero (Mark Shearman)

On her Euro Cross trip to Turin, she took an overnight coach to Lille before catching a train to Turin via Paris. Her family took folding bikes to ride the 20 minutes or so between stations in order to keep costs down. However she feels travel delays and disruption led to her having an underpar race.

“My family is as environmentally minded as I am,” she said. “We live in a passive house on a small holding growing fruit and vegetables. 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 added: “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. Innes was crowned the 2022 Youth ‘Champion For Earth’ for her commitment to pursuing her sporting goals as sustainably as possible.”

Fitzgerald has only burst on the scene at the start of last year under the guidance of coach Gavin Pavey after previously running for fun. An A-level student in maths, physics and biology, she smashed the UK under-17 women’s 3000m record with 8:59.67 in Belfast in July before enjoying runaway victories so far this winter in the Mini London Marathon and Euro Cross trials in Liverpool.

Innes Fitzgerald (Mark Shearman)

Her performances last summer could have led to her racing at the European Under-18 Championships in Jerusalem but, again, she ruled out doing it due to concern over flight emissions.

Champions for Earth said: “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.

READ MORE: Damian Hall on eco-friendly athletics

“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.”

Innes Fitzgerald (181) (Mark Shearman)

Innes FitzGerald’s letter to UKA this week

Dear British Athletics,

To have the opportunity to compete for Great Britain in Australia is a privilege. However, it is with great regret that I must decline this opportunity.

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 was just nine when the COP21 Paris Climate agreement was signed. Now, eight years on, and global emissions have been steadily increasing, sending us on a path to climate catastrophe. Sir David King, former government chief scientific advisor, has said, ‘What we do, I believe, in the next three to four years will determine the future of humanity.’ The science is clear. Turning this around is only possible through transformational change from collective and personal action.

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.

Kind regards,
Innes FitzGerald

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