The most popular sport in the world, football has a far from negligible carbon footprint. As the COP26 opens on Sunday in Glasgow, what initiatives are being taken to make the football as green as its lawns?
With the infernal pace of matches bringing footballers (by plane, necessarily) to the four corners of Europe or the world and the travels of supporters, the requirements of professional football constitute a cocktail with a heavy carbon footprint.
A subject in tune with the times
“Sports practice is closely linked to quality of the environment “, reminds France 24 Arthur Miche, founding president of Football Écologie France, an association aiming to make this sport a major player in the ecological transition. “If weather conditions continue to deteriorate and temperatures to rise, outdoor sport could quickly become suffocating.”
In a video published in July 2020, English club Manchester City worried about the impact of global warming on the future of football. Entitled “The End of Football”, the spot projects us into 2045, into a future where water shortages prevent Premier League matches, and in particular that of Manchester City led by Phil Foden, to stand.
Manchester City is not an isolated case: “We are currently over-solicited, both by professional and amateur clubs, which shows that football wants to take up ecological issues,” explains Arthur Miche.
Football has a significant impact through its pollution and CO2 emissions, according to data collected by the association: transport of players and supporters for competitions (2.1 million tonnes of CO2 for the 2018 World Cup, ie the ecological impact of 200,000 French people) massive production of waste (a Ligue 1 match would produce 10 tonnes), water consumption for lawn maintenance, etc.
The president of Football Écologie France insists on the need to change habits. “In terms of CO2 emissions, it is really the question of transport that is capital: transport to training, matches, transport of supporters. The other big issue is waste management. a lot of waste. When there are big events, it’s complicated to aim for zero waste, “explains Arthur Miche, whose association brings its expertise to develop the public transport offer to get to the stadium and strive for a reduction in the waste produced.
“Our goal is to support clubs and communities – which are often the owners of stadiums – in an operational manner in order to integrate ecology into football. We offer expertise, creation of events, tools for respond to issues in the field. We also try to disseminate good practices as much as possible, “explains Arthur Miche.
Eco-supportism as a means of action
Example of concrete actions, Saturday 23 October, Football Écologie France organized alongside the Girondins de Bordeaux and the association The SeaCleaners an urban cleaning walk. Objective: to mobilize supporters to collect as much waste as possible in 90 minutes, the equivalent of a football match. The harvest of the 317 fans present was substantial: 110 kg of plastic were collected, as well as 92 kg of glass, 38 kg of metal including 1,700 capsules, 23 kg of cardboard, 428 masks and 127,000 cigarette butts.
The operation perfectly illustrates the concept of eco-supportism, put forward by the association: a bottom-up logic that places the supporter at the heart of the action.
“For us, each supporter can have game-changing commitments. It is possible to change the way they practice sport (transport, waste management). The other lever is the support of their club by ecology. Clubs like Bordeaux or OL can do all the actions they want, if the supporters do not follow, they will not go far, “says Arthur Miche, whose association had published a book white to the occasion of Euro-2021 on the right behaviors to adopt. “The supporters are citizens. If they are made aware of the issue, it puts pressure on the clubs to take up the issue.”
Major events, the source of all evil
“Currently, the major contributors to the carbon footprint are major events, with two items of enormous CO2 emissions: the transport of spectators and the construction of stadiums”, notes Mathieu Djaballah, lecturer at the University of Paris-Saclay specialist in social and environmental responsibility in sport, interviewed by France 24.
With the World Cup in Qatar in less than a year, football is unlikely to improve its carbon footprint: between the arrival of fans from all over the world to see the tournament that will take place this year in the small peninsula and air-conditioned stadiums, the carbon bill risks being steep. However, by a sleight of hand, Fifa affirms that the carbon footprint of the event will be neutral. The tournament organizers are committed to mitigating and offsetting all greenhouse gas emissions from the tournament.
Often the promises of tree plantations flourish. UEFA has promised to plant 50,000 trees to compensate for its last Euro played in twelve countries.
“We will calculate our (carbon) footprint, then we will buy credits to replant trees”, summarizes Mathieu Djaballah. “We arrive at a zero, but it is a false zero. It is not a sustainable logic.”
>> Read also: Planting trees, an insufficient solution to fight against climate change
“Offsetting carbon is an interesting symbolic gesture, but it should only happen as a last resort, when we have already done our utmost to reduce emissions,” notes Arthur Miche. “It is a disparaged subject to plant trees after a competition, because one has the impression that the authorities did not try to reduce their impact.”
On the one hand, we praise ecological actions and neutral carbon balances; on the other hand, there are many polluting initiatives and competition dates. Recently, the LFP announced the relocation of a Ligue 1 match in China to seduce the Asian market before backpedaling. Fifa is pushing for a World Cup every two years … Is the world of football hypocritical?
“It is, in reality, a tension between ecological issues and economic issues. Ecology is now something demanded by public opinion. This forces clubs and authorities to take up the subject. Much progress has been made, especially in the development of stadiums, transport offers, “notes Mathieu Djaballah. “However, this desire to make efforts comes up against a limit: the total questioning of the economic model of professional sport. We prefer to see ecology as a daily gesture rather than as a macro problem. In the case of adults. events, the primary goal is always to attract spectators from all over the world. There is therefore a deep schizophrenia: these spectators burn 80% of their carbon footprint but arriving there, they are asked to take public transport and sort waste for ecological reasons. “
“There is a form of inconsistency and asymmetry,” adds Arthur Miche. “The authorities are in the process of becoming aware of the stakes but, at the same time, this awareness has not yet reached all of the people taking part in the decision-making process. We can take the example of the relocated match in China. One can assume that the person who actually made this decision is far from being sensitive to the ecological question, even though others within the LFP are well acquainted with the subject. ”
For the president of Foot Écologie France, the governing bodies of football have a means to make its events more ecological: demanding specifications in terms of environmental issues.
“It must be remembered that the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010, an already distant era in terms of ecological awareness. When Qatar was chosen, these issues were not included. It is now necessary that the notebooks charges are very demanding with the host countries and impose a responsible and ecologically coherent purchasing policy. France has done this for Euro-2016 and the Women’s World Cup. Qatar must be the last of these events where stadiums are built ex nihilo in remote places “, wants to believe Arthur Miche, optimist.