Wild Olympians: using sports to raise public awareness of large carnivores

Location: Kiew – Ukraine,
Story by: Tetiana Karpiuk


Sports are always a good option for raising awareness of large carnivores and rethinking how we deal with conflicts. WWF Ukraine used the Winter Olympics to promote the capabilities of different species such as the wolf and lynx, and developed an online strategy to reach out to the public. 


In February 2018 the whole world was talking about the Winter Olympics in South Korea. According to Google Trends, this has become one of the most popular sport events for Ukrainians. Based on this knowledge, we decided to use the event for situational marketing, transfer the topic of winter sports to wildlife protection and depict the abilities of different species to raise awareness for their protection and coexistence.

We analyzed disciplines that are of interest to Ukrainians. The most popular of these are the biathlon, skiing, hockey and figure skating, followed by skateboarding, skeleton, snowboarding and jumping. We analyzed the main features of each discipline and chose species that could become the representatives of the selected sports. Thus, the wolf became a talisman for hockey, lynx was chosen for mountain skiing, a polar owl was selected for the biathlon, a bald eagle was used for figure skating, and so forth. The idea was that everyone who identified with one type of sport also gets curious to know more about the dedicated species. 


Online marketing with digital content

Online marketing can be a powerful tool to reach people that are difficult to reached otherwise. A separate landing page can help to brand the project and to be found in online searches. Sometimes it helps to address a different topic that is trending and to connect it to the human wildlilfe conflicts or species, e.g. using a big sports event that is of big interest. An online campaign can be another possibility to address certain wildlife topics – one important key is to use the right keywords, appealing pictures and if possible also video material.


Sports are a very good option for reaching people that usually would not usually be interested in the conservation topic or the species. Sports make it particularly easy to reach million of people. Using animal mascots to make people aware of them is a common approach to address those topics in a more emotional way and allows people to identify with the animals. Aside from major events like the World Cup or the Olympics, it is always possible to cooperate with sports clubs that use large carnivores as mascots or connect the idea of teamplay to conflict resolution matters.


As soon as the competition in one olympic discipline started, a subpage was published a and explained the capacities of its animalistic representative. Icons, pictures and text describe the main biological characteristics of the animal, threats, conservation status, interesting facts, as well as how it is possible to help protect this animal and what projects or programmes (if any) in Ukraine are working to preserve them. When someone started to search for a discipline, Google would automatically lead them to the website.

The eco-educational innovative approach showed good results in terms of promoting ways to talk about species protection and conflict resolution issues. The website with 11 articles was active during the three weeks of the Winter Olympics. We also used social media to spread the news and push the campaign via WWF Ukraine’s channels. The total number of views of the campaign materials reached 70,000, plus another 50,000 contacts through social media and media coverage.

This campaign was an experiment, but it worked quite well. After the idea was born, we implemented it in a simple way and reached a lot of people.