Morten Thorsby already had a football career that many would envy.
He was stuck in the national team squad at Ståle Solbakken and started 35 of his 38 league games for Sampdoria in Serie A last season (the three times he didn’t start he was either suspended or injured).
However, it is not football that receives the most attention:
In Italy, it came to attention two years ago that a football star from the Italian Serie A was walking around and picking up trash in Genoa, almost voluntarily. After that, Thorsby was invited to meet with Italian Climate Minister Sergio Costa.
Recently, NRK was able to announce that Italian TV celebrity Diletta Leotta, with 8.2 million followers on Instagram, has dedicated an entire program to the environmentally observant Norwegian.
This summer, Thorsby will rotate in climate meetings with strong players such as the European Union, the United Nations, UEFA and FIFPro.
But how did Thorsby become so passionate about climate issues?
The defining moment came shortly after the professional dream came true in 2014, when Thorsby moved to Heerenveen in the Netherlands.
– It was fall where I really started getting involved. Today, Thorsby says, I was damned, and there was a lot of aggression and emotion around that, and I started to understand what was going on.
The exciting factor was the reportage series that the young football professional followed up in the Guardian newspaper, «Keep it in the ground» where they highlighted the powerful oil, coal and gas industry.
They wrote how 80-90 percent of emissions come from about 50 oil, coal and gas companies. Statoil was one of the companies. He says I was young, extremist and upset.
Got a talent award
I felt deceived and led behind the light
Ironically, Thorsby had so excelled on the football field at this time that he was awarded the Statoil Talent Award in the fall of 2014, a selection made in association with TV 2.
A TV 2 reporter visited him in the Netherlands to present the award, and the report began with a Thorsby bike ride.
– He said you might not expect to see a professional soccer player on a bike.
Thorsby unpacked the trophy, and announced with a smile that it would fit in his “relatively empty prize cupboard.”
you did not.
– Receiving this award was like a wreath cake. At first I thought of putting it back, and getting something out of it. But then I thought: “You know what, I got an award for something I did in football.” So I kept it. But I didn’t want to show it to anyone, so I put it in my basement and glued it to the entire glass partition so you couldn’t see the Statoil logo and engraving with the Statoil Talent Award, says Thorsby.
Since Statoil was the main sponsor of the youth national teams, Thorsby also considered refusing to play with the flag on his chest.
– I thought it was hard, and I didn’t want to wear Statoil’s clothes. At the same time, I really wanted to be in the national team. The idea I took was if I could justify it as long as Statoil is the main sponsor. But I ended up dropping it. A lot has happened since then. What is now called Equinor has done an incredible amount of good since then. They still need to get a lot better, but it’s going in the right direction. Believes.
But when he was 18, he was angry, extremist, and “a bit revolutionary,” as he put it.
All the feelings I felt then became the commitment I have now. But then I felt even stronger contempt, and I felt that I had been deceived and led behind the spotlight, and that the oil companies were preventing people from getting the right information. I asked how they might have been allowed to hold on, says Thorsby.
Although it still refers to a company like Exxon Mobile Involved in serious environmental crimes Over several decades, he acquired a more accurate view, for example, Equinor.
The additional understanding of how society works, and all the prosperity we enjoy today because of the oil and gas that laid the foundation for the entire welfare state, is becoming greater. It just represents the enormous need for energy in modern society. We’ve all contributed to this, but the industry has long led us behind the spotlight, says Thorsby.
He wanted to quit football
The year after the Guardian articles, in 2015, the environmental issue became all-consuming for young Norwegians in Heerenveen. It also affected performance on the field.
When the international Paris climate agreement came into effect late in the year, he was motivated more by devoting himself to climate action than football.
– The Paris Agreement aroused strong feelings in me. “I was worried and I had climate anxiety,” says Thorsby.
– After a year in Heerenveen, I had an existential crisis as I thought about leaving football. I thought this was inexcusable, I couldn’t pursue a selfish project like football when we had so many big problems to solve. The 26-year-old says I wanted to get involved and contribute more to it.
He has brought the family together for a serious talk about life as a footballer, and if the time is really good for a career point.
After that chat I decided that life as a footballer could be justified, if I did everything in my power to spread the message about the climate. This is what we found. The better I was at football, the more I could talk about these things. Therefore, the best thing I can do is be as good as possible.
I’m not good at soccer either, so why should I put up with it?
– What made you realize that?
The father was (Espin Thorsby). “Morten, now you have to think carefully here,” he said. This was during a period when it was tough on the court, and I thought there was no point anymore. “I’m not good at football, either, why should I continue?” , I thought. But during that conversation, the mindset shifted to “Dad, this is what I’m going to do,” says Thursby.
The ribbon on the prestige award
Dad Espen remembers having his son struggle about his future as a footballer is very real.
We spent a day or two going through it and talking about how his voice gets stronger as he becomes a better footballer. It was a really nice thing, Morten found such peace in him. He’s a sentimental guy and falls into the basement on a regular basis. Then we take that argument out of the hat again, he says.
He and his wife Bea now work full time with the environmental foundation We Play Green, with Morten being the initiator and founder.
According to Espen Thorsby, they had no particular commitment to climate until their son indulged in the problem. He was a lawyer and president of Riks-TV, while his wife was a designer and worked in communications and project management.
– He’s the one who hit us. I tend to say I’ve been a diesel meat eater, so I shouldn’t take any credit for his commitment to the climate. But we gradually became very involved in the same thing, he says.
He started his own foundation
I tend to say I used to eat diesel powered meat
Morten Thorsby sees what his father promised in 2015 is indeed true – he has received a voice to be heard.
– It’s been a great trip since then. I was threatened that highlighting issues through football actually works. When I changed to fit #2, Thorsby says, it went all over the world, so I see it works.
He is aiming for the campaign he started last fall, when he changed from the number 18 shirt to 2 in both the national team and club team. The number 2 stands for the two-degree goal of the Paris Agreement – that is, the rise in global temperature should not exceed two degrees.
He has now launched a new campaign, Green Bag, which aims to reuse and recycle huge quantities of soccer apparel, soccer shoes and soccer kits around the world.
This talent award has been hidden and recorded
He is optimistic about the future of the planet, even though the green transition is not proceeding as quickly as many would like, and the United Nations Climate Committee has warned of humanity’s red code if climate goals are not met.
The problems have been known for a long time. The positive is that participation is increasing, not least among young people. This is what inspires me – all the young people I talk to, who care and work with. We have many problems to solve, and not only will it go up, but we are on the right track, I’m absolutely convinced, he says.
It was carried in the wardrobe
Thorsby notes a different curiosity and acceptance among his colleagues now when it comes to climate issues than he did 7-8 years ago.
– People are becoming more interested in it, and the message is getting through more and more. Eight years ago, when I started talking about this in the locker room, everyone was laughing at me. But in the last 5-6 years it has changed. Now people start asking, they understand it’s a problem, they want to do something. But often they don’t know exactly what. This is where I want to help them, and so I agree with this, says Thursby about the importance of my own environmental projects.
Hegerberg wants to be like Thorsby: – He’s totally rude
He worries that he shouldn’t come up with moral clues when it comes to people’s habits.
I am a proponent of spreading positivity rather than teaching. I want to inspire people to realize that many of the things we can do don’t have to affect our lives in a significant way. Like cycling to exercise and eating less meat. It’s not about perfect today, but in 30 years’ time we should have come a long way.
What do you do on a daily basis regarding the climate?
– It is important to note that I am as far away as possible. I’m a soccer player and I travel far away, it’s inevitable when I have the job I have. I haven’t asked anyone to stop what they’re doing, that’s not how it works. But there are many things I can do in everyday life, like eat less meat or reduce unnecessary trips and think about reusing when I’m shopping etc. We can make big strides just by taking the overhanging fruit first, says Thorsby.
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