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British athlete declines World XC Championship spot for climate reasons

16-year-old distance running phenom Innes FitzGerald will not be going to next month's World XC Championships in Australia due to concerns over flight emissions

Innes FitzGerald climate change Photo by: England Athletics

One of Britain’s best up-and-coming female distance runners will not be making the trip to the 2023 World XC Championships in Bathurst, Australia, next month. Earlier this week, 16-year-old Innes FitzGerald told U.K. Athletics that she is honoured to have the opportunity, but has declined due to climate concerns around air travel.

“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.” – Innes FitzGerald

At last month’s European XC Championships in Turin, Italy, FitzGerald exceeded expectations, finishing fourth in the U20 race as a 16-year-old. But her result wasn’t what made headlines after the race. She reportedly took over 20 hours to travel to the race from her hometown of Exeter, U.K., because of her refusal to fly.

According to an interview with Athletics Weekly, she took an overnight coach to Lille, France, before catching a train to Turin via Paris. Her family took folding bikes to ride the 20 minutes or so between stations, to keep costs (and emissions) down.

“The least I can do is voice my solidarity with those suffering on the front line of climate breakdown,” she told Athletics Weekly. “Coming to a decision has not been easy, however, little compares to the grief I would feel taking the flight.”

FitzGerald is part of an organization called “Champions for Earth,” made up of a group of British athletes pressing the urgency of climate change. The reigning UTMB champion and skyrunning legend Kilian Jornet, who lives in Norway, limits his overseas racing for the same reason.

In the interview, FitzGerald said her family is just as concerned about the environment as she is. “We live in a passive house on a small farm, growing fruit and vegetables–so my dad was happy for us not to fly, ” said FitzGerald. “Aviation is the most energy-intensive activity we can do and explodes a person’s carbon footprint.”

Earlier this year, FitzGerald leaped onto the scene when she smashed the British U18 3,000m record. She was later invited to compete at July’s U18 European Championships in Jerusalem, but did not attend.

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