Africa: Athletics Legend Paula Radcliffe Joins Fight for Clean Air

press release

Athletics legend Paula Radcliffe has joined UN Environment's work to beat air pollution - the single biggest environmental health risk of our time. Paula who is the world record holder for the women's marathon steps up as IAAF Ambassador alongside Haile Gebrselassie and will serve as UN Environment Advocate for Clean Air to lead the race for a pollution-free planet and healthy environment for runners.

In May 2018, UN Environment and the IAAF announced a new partnership to address the issue of air quality. By engaging a community of professional athletes, national athletics federations, local and national governments, community leaders and a growing number of people worldwide who choose to run as their main form of exercise, the IAAF pledged to support UN Environment's BreatheLife campaign and to contribute key data in the battle to combat air pollution.

"As athletes, with our training and competitions, we take in ten times as much air when we run than when doing something else and so air pollution poses a threat to our health" said Paula. "I want to improve the situation for runners all around the world in my role as Clean Air Advocate and IAAF Ambassador. Until the next generation of athletes can run in clean air, I commit to help lead the fight against air pollution."

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk of our time with 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathing unsafe air. Every day around 93% of the world's children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children) breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk. Around seven million people die each year from exposure to polluted air, both indoor and outdoor.

"Knowing at first-hand the effects that air pollution has on the human body as an elite athlete, Paula is a great person to take the message far and wide. Air pollution must be seen for what it is - a dangerous public health crisis" said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment.

Among her many long-distance running achievements, Paula set her first world record in winning the Chicago Marathon in 2002 and won the London Marathon in 2002, 2003 (improving the World Record) and 2005. She won the New York City Marathon on three occasions (2004, 2007 and 2008). In 2005, she became International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Champion over the marathon distance in Helsinki, Finland.

In other achievements, Paula was awarded a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2002 and later that year was voted the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year and was also the IAAF female athlete of the year. She currently serves as member of the IAAF Athletes Commission.

Through global initiatives and campaigns, like BreatheLife, that mobilize governments, leaders and individuals, UN Environment aims to tackle the scourge of air pollution by building public awareness and seeking the political will to make new commitments and action plans to reduce air pollution.

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