An Opinion Piece by Dom Goggins
UEFA, a leading signatory of the UN’s Sport for Climate Action Framework, reiterated its commitment to environmental sustainability this week. An exciting announcement in an exciting week, just hours away from the start of their flagship international competition Euro 2020 (delayed until 2021 because of the pandemic).
Hundreds of millions of football fans will tune in to watch the drama unfold over the next month, relishing the spectacle of Europe’s finest footballers on show across the continent.
The football may be good enough to distract us from it, but there is a dark contradiction at the heart of this tournament. It will be played across 11 countries with a breadth of nearly 8000km from Seville, Spain in the West to Baku, Azerbaijan in the East.
So, at a time when we are attempting to get to grips with the threat and impact of dangerous climate change – and in the same week their leaders have been showcasing their environmental credentials – UEFA is set to host its most geographically expansive tournament ever. This is only weeks after requiring supporters of Chelsea & Manchester City (myself included) to travel to and from Porto to our teams contest the Champions League Final.
“It’s almost like going out and saying: How can we design a competition to maximise our environmental impact?” our friend Andrew Simms of the Rapid Transition Alliance told the BBC.
The same BBC article did the maths:
“If the tournament goes according to seedings, a Switzerland fan following their team would have to travel 20,377km (12,662 miles), further than supporters of any other country. It would involve three separate trips to Baku, with matches in Rome and Amsterdam in between. That total distance is around the equivalent of flying from London to New York and back – twice. Their total would rise to 21,656km if they were to reach the final.
Even if the Swiss went out in the group stage, a fan travelling to watch each of their matches would clock up 13,115km – almost twice as many kilometres as in all their previous European Championship appearances combined (6,750km across 1996, 2004, 2008, 2016)”
The Euros is a magnificent spectacle, but the cultural, economic and political power of sport is an essential tool in the battle humanity faces to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. Commitment to that goal needs to be root and branch, and flow through the way sport’s big commercial decisions are made and the way crown jewel events are organised.
UEFA’s recent decisions, and their long term association with fossil fuel sponsors, raise some uncomfortable questions about the true nature of that commitment. And with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar set to produce 3.6m tonnes of CO2 ahead of a 2026 World Cup spanning the whole of North America that will dwarf the footprint of Euro 2020, those questions should fall at FIFA’s feet too.
Something needs to change.