Clara Lucia: We need to use strong sports communities to focus on sustainability

Clara Lucia Tonnisen is a sportswoman and ambassador for the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals. She combines the two in the newly founded association Permasport, where she wants to motivate and inspire sports associations to use sport and its strong communities to promote sustainable initiatives. She believes that sport is an obvious place to promote the sustainable agenda.
By: Katrine Bendixen

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By July 2021, 29-year-old Clara Lucia was no longer in doubt that her great passion for combining sport and sustainability would go from being a good idea on paper to a reality. And so she founded the association Permasport.

Clara Lucia describes herself first and foremost as a "sportswoman". Much of Clara Lucia's childhood was spent on the football pitches in her home town of Silkeborg, and in the early years she played on the boys' team because the club did not yet offer football for girls. From the age of 15 to 19, she took the train from Silkeborg to Horsens every day to play football at a higher level that matched both her talent and, more importantly, her ambitions, and for a time her homework became a transport job.

Photo: Mikkel Vognæs

In 2007, Clara Lucia's father founded the sports association AC Silkeborg, now called SIF Q, because "he thought it was too bad that there was no elite football for girls in Silkeborg", Clara Lucia says. With the new - and now local - football club, Clara Lucia and the town's other football girls no longer had to commute to Horsens, Aarhus and Vejle respectively to play football, and today the club is a magnet for many female footballers and has become very successful. Action and passion for sport have thus been a permanent feature of the childhood home in Silkeborg:

"I remind you a lot of my father. Now I've founded a sports club myself - just as he did - because I think there's something worth fighting for here. In a way, I'm following in his footsteps."

Photo: private 1994. Clara and her father when she was two years old.
Photo: private. Clara Lucia 9 years old and at football school.

Strong ambitions for sustainable sports communities

Permasport's young age and sparse lifespan are not reflected in the towering ambitions Clara Lucia has set for the association. With a fervent voice and arm movements that at the same time try to visualise the words spoken, she tells what she wants to fight for and why she founded the association:

"The aim of Permasport is to use sport as a tool to work on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Through the Danish sports community, we will contribute even more to promoting local initiatives for sustainable living and raise awareness of the SDGs among Danish athletes at national level."

Permasport consists of eight volunteers in total, and it's clear to everyone that Permasport is the epitome of what Clara Lucia is passionate about: highlighting sustainability through sports communities. But to concretise the - perhaps for some abstract and high-flying - purpose of Permasport, Clara Lucia tells about a high school stay on Møn, which became fundamental and framing for the association's approach.

Photo: Mikkel Vognæs

An association inspired by permaculture

As the name itself suggests, Permasport is inspired by permaculture. But it was neither planned nor given in advance that permaculture would be the source of inspiration for Permasport. For with Clara Lucia's certification as a SDG Ambassador from the SDG Academy and a Master's degree in Intercultural Studies from Aarhus University, she has an academic - and primarily theoretical rather than practical - approach to working on sustainability in combination with sport.

It wasn't until she was introduced to permaculture by chance at a high school on Møn in the spring of 2021 that she saw great potential in transferring the permacultural design approach to the world of sports. Permaculture came to Denmark in 1980 as a sustainable counterpart to conventional agriculture, but the permaculture design approach can be used in all kinds of contexts, not just agriculture, says Clara Lucia and elaborates:

"At Permasport, we use the permacultural approach to explore how we can better ensure cultural diversity in sport communities and increase diversity in the sport world in a sustainable way, while promoting sustainable development through sport."

Clara Lucia acknowledges and adds in the same breath that for many, permaculture as an approach can be abstract to understand. In essence, permaculture should simply be seen as a very ambitious approach to promoting sustainability, which is what characterises Permasport.

Photo: Mikkel Vognæs

In sports clubs, the magic communities already exist, which is the ultimate starting point for promoting sustainability

Clara Lucia

Communities in sports clubs have great potential

The association caters to all kinds of sports communities and sports enthusiasts, but according to Clara Lucia, Danish sports associations have a particularly great potential to drive sustainable development in the future:

"Why don't sports clubs have a greener profile than they do? We are environmentally conscious citizens in all possible contexts of our lives, but as soon as the context has a sporting character, it is as if we partially forget the green transition. In sports clubs, the magic communities already exist, which is the ultimate starting point for promoting sustainability."

According to Clara Lucia, the established sports communities in sports clubs are a strong starting point for creating a green transition. But with both Clara Lucia's childhood and youth firmly anchored in club life as an elite-level footballer, she is aware that the voluntary forces in clubs are not unlimited. Working on the UN SDGs and sustainability can therefore be a daunting task for volunteers in associations. And that is one of the reasons why Permasport was founded:

"At Permasport, we are committed to bridging the gap between sport and sustainability, so we will be the sparring partner for sports clubs, ensuring knowledge sharing on sustainability within the club and helping them to start greening their profile if they so wish."

In addition to being an association and community where sports clubs, individuals and other interested parties can join and get help to focus on sustainability in their sports communities, Permasport is also involved in individual sports projects.

Photo: Soledad Garay Molina. Club Atlético Talleres in Córdoba, Argentina, spring 2016

Hosts of the 2022 football tournament

As the first project, Permasport is hosting the international women's football tournament and sustainability festival Global Goals World Cup, to be held in August 2022 in Aarhus.

The Global Goals World Cup is a football tournament that was created in 2015 by Eir Soccer, after the 17 Global Goals were adopted at the United Nations. GGWCUP is a football tournament for women and encourages leading local sustainable development. Leading up to the tournament, all registered teams fight for one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and teams are ranked according to their efforts towards the global goal both on and off the pitch. Aarhus will host the GGWCUP until August 2022.


For Clara Lucia, the hosting is a unique opportunity for Permasport to clarify and concretise what it means to have a permacultural approach to sport and show how sustainable initiatives can be communicated through a sporting event:

"As hosts, we must ensure that the best possible conditions are in place for the greatest possible cultural diversity and coexistence for all who become part of this sporting community and participate in the tournament."

To be eligible for the tournament, each football team must select and work on one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and create initiatives in their own community that contribute to sustainable development.

Clara Lucia is proud that Permasport is helping to put the spotlight on women in football, as the first project in the association. With a focus on creating diverse sporting communities, Clara Lucia is keen to see the next Permasport project focus on something as far away from football as possible. "Nordic walking for the elderly," she exemplifies with a wry smile, but stresses that it's definitely not out of the question.

Photo: Mikkel Vognæs

A woman with a mission

Permasport as a whole is an expression of Clara Lucia's great passion for different cultures, sport and sustainability, which has always interested her. During her sabbatical in 2012-2013, Clara Lucia moved for a year to Colombia, which she had not revisited many times since she was adopted by her Danish parents at the age of one. Her love of Colombian culture quickly took root in her, so in 2016 she returned to Latin America to study for a semester in Argentina. Here, she became part of an Argentine sports community that really made her aware of the unique impact a sports community can have:

"I started playing football in the local club and although I speak excellent Spanish, their local accent was a linguistic challenge for me. But I soon discovered that football and the sporting community was in fact a universal language that balanced out all the cultural differences that naturally existed between me and the rest of the team. It was hugely powerful and inclusive, and that's what gives any sports community the potential and magic to collaborate on other causes too."

Clara Lucia is convinced that we can learn a lot from having more diversity in the sports world - especially in terms of promoting the sustainable agenda, where she sees diversity as a positive factor to drive sustainable development even further. With the many positive reactions and expressions she has received from interested Permasport partners, she is looking forward to using sport to focus on sustainability in Danish sports clubs and through other Permasport projects.

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We are environmentally conscious citizens in all possible contexts of our lives, but as soon as the context has a sporting character, it is as if we partially forget the green transition.

Clara Lucia

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