Morten Thorsby is not your average footballer. The Union Berlin midfielder is a Norwegian international whose previous clubs include Sampdoria and Heerenveen, but it’s not his career on the pitch that sets him apart. In fact, he came close to walking away from the game altogether a few years ago, just when his star was first on the rise. The reason? His one overriding passion, and now the focus of his We Play Green foundation: the need to combat climate change.
“My engagement with the climate and environmental crisis kicked off around the Paris Agreement in 2015,” he says. “I was very surprised no one was speaking about this in football. Back then there was talk about racism, women’s rights, all other issues, but when it came to the climate and environment, no one was speaking about it. I couldn’t understand how that was possible. It’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced – and is facing right now.”
Initially Thorsby felt it was impossible to reconcile his concern for the environment with the life of a footballer, and he discussed quitting with his parents. Instead he realised that his raised profile offered him a platform to communicate and the means to mobilise clubs, organisations and fellow players to join him in taking a stand – though not without first taking a cold, hard look at his own impact on the planet.
“You start with yourself,” he explains. “You look at your own lifestyle and how you can do better. Because I’m a football player, I have a footprint which is much bigger than the average person’s because of all the travel, so it’s also difficult for football players to speak up about this. I’m trying to become as good as possible but in today’s system, nobody can be perfect. I’ve changed all the things I can do something about in my personal life: travelling, how I eat, how I live my life, how I heat my home. We have to just admit we’re not perfect, but we want to improve.”