IIt was bad enough in 2019 when tens of thousands of UK football fans toured Europe to watch two English clubs, Tottenham and Liverpool, play the Champions League final at the Atlético de Madrid stadium in Spain. Easier, cheaper and more conveniently, they could have hopped on a train or coach, or traveled to meet halfway to Birmingham.
Now, we are not only still in the middle of a pandemic, with Turkey, where this season’s Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea was initially scheduled for May 29, registering an average of 29,000 new cases of coronavirus per dayBut since 2019 there has been a rising tide of awareness about the climate emergency and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.
The governing body is infamous for not reading the room on topics ranging from racism to corruption, and has the fossil fuel company Gazprom as a long-time main sponsor. But this time he couldn’t read the stadium. Flying to Istanbul under current restrictions was always going to be a sad, isolated experience and, most importantly, risking the spread of the infection. Four thousand fans each flying from Manchester and London in half-full planes. would have put about 6,400 tons of CO2 in the atmosphere (assuming everyone flew economy, and not including the players, staff, media, and entourage). That is the equivalent of burning gasoline from 84 tanker trucks. The sport knows all about the importance of marginal gains in athletic performance, but decisions like this make it seem, in climatic terms, that you’re still stuck on the couch, drinking, smoking, and sipping donuts.
“Once again UEFA misses an open target,” said University of Sussex Professor Peter Newell, author of a recent groundbreaking report on sustainable behavior change and director of research at the Rapid transition alliance, before the change of venue was announced. “Rather than playing a leading role in modeling sustainable behavior change, it shows that it is out of place, in the first place, by having two British teams play a final in Turkey and thus generating huge amounts of carbon through unnecessary travel, and second, by getting two sets of fans to mingle amid a global pandemic that demands social distancing. “
Fortunately, the sport is slowly waking up as it realizes that, like everyone else, it has a role to play in preventing environmental disasters. It’s not just about soccer acting responsibly, the game has its own selfish reasons for acting, which could also improve the accessibility and experience for fans. Sporting events are already increasingly affected and canceled due to extreme weather events. Within the next three decades, a quarter of the grounds of the English Football League will be at risk of flooding every season.
And something broader is moving into the game to drive rapid change. New groups like Pledgeball they are already working with fans and clubs to change behavior and reduce emissions. Its founder, Katie Cross, notes: “On average, 70% of the carbon emissions from a single device come from fan travel. Moving the final to England will therefore significantly reduce the final’s carbon footprint and demonstrate the impact of fan behavior on match day and beyond. “
Other groups like Soccer spirit will use future World Cups as platforms to advocate for a major game change. Football for the future, is a new campaign and founder Elliot Arthur-Worsop believes that a greener sport could also make things better for fans. “Venue locations significantly reduce travel emissions and make matches more convenient for fans,” he says. “Not all fans can afford to follow their club on every continent, and younger fans may have to sacrifice several days away from school to see their team for just 90 minutes.” It is encouraging that there is leadership from below in the game with League Two Forest Green Rovers – the world’s first football club with the UN zero carbon certification – setting an exemplary example in everything from community involvement to renewable energy and sourcing fresh, local food.
How fast can elite clubs and administrators catch up? Fortunately, UEFA is shown the ability to think quickly by making moves to change the Champions League final from Istanbul, with Lisbon as the most likely alternative venue, but the fact that the UK government has put to Turkey on the red list to travel by force. The change shows that there is still a lack of long-term thinking on the part of those at the top of the sport when it comes to doing the right thing. Like Katie Rood, a New Zealand international who plays for the Lewes LFC Women’s Championship team and is a vocal activist on environmental issues, with the global reach and influence of soccer “comes the ability to be a sports leader and show off to the others what is possible. It’s time for the governing bodies of the beautiful game to start protecting the future by doing what’s right for the planet. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism