Climate crisis: What does football do to make a difference?
Professional sports certainly have an impact on the environment: teams are constantly travelling, enormous amounts of waste are generated during competitions, and natural areas are ruined in attempts to build stadiums. In recent years, however, there has been a major shift towards sustainability in sports – particularly in the football industry.
Football's governing bodies are keeping their eyes on the problem in the first place. The main ruling body in football, FIFA, by 2012 has incorporated various environmental requirements (such as passing sustainable building certification) into its bid processes, starting with the FIFA World Cup™ in 2018. Moreover, in time for the 2022 World Cup, the first fully demountable stadium was successfully constructed, sustainable stadium cooling technology was established (with energy savings of up to 45%) and a network of electric vehicle charging points was made available.
The practical steps of UEFA, the FIFA affiliate, has included a test use of biodegradable food packaging in a women's EURO 2022 final. While last year UEFA also supported BT Sport to test a multicamera remote production system at the Youth League game between Tottenham Hotspur and Sporting Clube de Portugal to exclude extensive on-site technical equipment, infrastructure, and personnel for each live event to reduce the generated carbon footprint by 25%.
Clubs are also encouraged by the federations when it comes to environmental protection. In 2018 FIFA named English club Forest Green Rovers "the greenest club in the world". The club utilizes solar-powered electricity, uses energy-saving lamps for lighting, collects/recycles rainwater, and converts all waste cooking oil into biofuel. In 2021 the team was also the first in the world to play in kits made from recycled plastic and coffee grounds.
Similarly, Spanish club Real Betis were the first club to team up with the UN climate change secretariat. As part of this commitment, Betis created a large-scale " Forever Green " eco-platform aiming at bringing companies and organizations together to carry out joint eco-projects. The platform has already launched more than 100 campaigns, reached 75 countries and brought together 60 organizations, companies and clubs. Some examples of actions include: support of emission reduction projects in different countries, establishment of eco-farms, organization of litter clean-up events, relocation of club employees from cars to electric scooters and many more.
Football players are also involved. Real Betis defender Hector Bellerin has been preaching ecoactivism in interviews in different media and in his own podcast series. The player himself also takes part in useful initiatives - in 2020 he sponsored planting of 50,000 plants and helped to collect $75,000 to contribute to the greening of the planet. It is also worth noting that the footballer has shares in a forementioned Forest Green Rovers - this, considering Bellerin's popularity, only raises public awareness of environmental issues. While FC Barcelona midfielder Ilkay Gündogan has also funded the planting of five thousand trees in Germany and Turkey affected by floods and forest fires respectively in 2021.
Other players, former and current, are also doing their bit to raise awareness. Leeds FC striker Patrick Bamford and English football legend Gary Lineker have both spoken out about the scientific consensus around the environment, stressing the importance of listening to scientists. And Manchester United player Amy Turner called on the UK government to stop sending huge amounts of plastic waste to developing countries where it is often illegally burned or dumped into the environment.
An all-encompassing global reaction is even affecting the realm of cybersports football. Electronic Arts (EA), main video games developer in the sphere, partnered with impact-oriented football brand PARK for a week-long gaming event in March 2022. Through the Ultimate Team online multiplayer mode, FIFA players played against Save the Planet XI, a team designed to draw attention to the issue of climate change. The team's uniform, stadium and ball designs were inspired by PARK's environmental textures. For example, white represented clouds, green was a leaf, blue was seaweed, while the goalkeeper's jersey was inspired by the foam of the sea on the beach.
Certainly, the efforts of the actors in the football community must not be overestimated, but they must be noticed. Sometimes their environmental actions can be effective, but other times they may contradict their own philosophy, and in a third case there may be self-interest that goes hand in hand with an eco-awareness policy. For example, today FIFA is making great efforts to combat pollution and offer its fans free public transport, but at the same time it is increasing the number of teams for the World Cup - from 32 to 48 - and actively promoting the idea of the World Cup as a biennial event.
At the same time, the President of the above-mentioned Real Betis, Angel Aro, is the CEO of Wingenia Holding, which owns companies involved in renewable energy, electricity and other similar firms. Aro, under the guise of environmentalism, may be lobbying his own business interests to expand his business share within the electricity market.
Nevertheless, the initiatives have a positive effect, as they are contributing to the fight against environmental pollution in one way or another. The argument that clubs are trying to attract investment and increase popularity under the banner of environmental protection is also debatable, since clubs are still raising public awareness on issues in the community with the promotion of important values. Consequently, the actions of the sports society to promote sustainability are important and, most notably, effective precisely because football is one of the best ways to draw attention not only to one's identity and society, but also to an inherent philosophy.