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Sport4Climate part 1: Football’s footprint

Like everything, football has a carbon footprint. Not so much the act of kicking a football itself, but as a professional sport with huge infrastructure and supporting systems and networks. As a passionate footballer and football fan, Leap’s sustainability designer Chevonne chose to blend business with pleasure for a recent piece of self-initiated Continued Professional Development Work, looking at football’s impact on climate change, climate change’s impact on football, and what fans and players can do about it.

SOMALIA, Mogadishu: In a handout photograph dated 14 January and released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team 17 January, of players of Elman FC challenge for the ball during a training session at their ground in the Hodan District of the Somali capital Mogadishu, ahead of their championship title defence when the new season kicks off in March this year. After two decades of near-constant conflict, Somalia is enjoying  its longest period of peace and growing security since the Al-Qaeda-allied violent extremist group Al Shabaab was driven from Mogadishu in August 2011. Under the Shabaab's draconian rule, social pastimes and sports such as football were banned but residents of the city and elsewhere across Somalia in areas liberated by sustained operations by the Somali National Army (SNA) supported by troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are now enjoying their freedoms once again. On January 19, Africa’s top football teams will meet in South Africa to contest for the continent’s most prestigious football title - the African Nations Cup – and although Somalia has never taken part due to insecurity and the hitherto ban on the playing and watching of football by Al Shabaab, the sport is once more growing in obvious evidence across the city and experiencing a surging revival of fortunes and popularity. AU-UN IST PHOTO / STUART PRICE.

Chevonne researched various studies into the carbon footprint of football, and discovered that 70% of the carbon emissions associated with the beautiful game are generated by spectator travel. That adds up to a huge volume when international tournaments such as the World Cup take place. The last World Cup that took place in Russia in 2018 generated approximately 2.16m tonnes of CO2e; if it were a country it would rank 151st in the world ahead of 60 other nations based on their annual emissions, and yet it is a single football tournament that is only around one month in duration. And that last tournament in Russia had a smaller carbon footprint that the previous tournaments in Brazil (2014, 2.27m tonnes) and South Africa (2010, 2.75m tonnes). The organisers of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar are claiming that it will be the first carbon neutral World Cup, however a report by FIFA predicted that it would produce up to 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – more than half of the anticipated CO2 output will be the result of fan, media and team travel, the report states.

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Football is also, like everything else, at risk from the effects of the climate and ecological crisis that its carbon footprint is exacerbating. Increased incidences of hot weather around the globe will cause problems for players at informal and professional levels, as well as for fans as the risk of heat exhaustion increases, pre-season training in many football-playing countries becomes physiologically dangerous, and social play in large parts of the world becomes intolerable due to extreme temperatures. At the other end of the extreme weather spectrum, local football pitches and parks will be unusable more often due to bad weather, and professional football matches will be increasingly disrupted by flooding. In England, 23 of the 92 league grounds can expect partial or total annual flooding of their stadiums by 2050.

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Football pitches under water, Wetherby Ings, Wetherby, West Yorkshire in 2015, photographed by M. Taylor

Chevonne decided upon a set of calls to action that she’d like her campaign to deliver:

• The sport needs to make itself carbon-zero within the next decade.
• Football governing bodies need to invest in carbon offsetting on a larger scale.
• Football needs to end its reliance on hydrocarbon sponsorship.
• Every football association, broadcaster, sponsor and club needs to commit to carbon-zero practice by 2030.
• Need to educate athletes, clubs and spectators on climate change issues.
• Advocate for sustainable solutions.

She then developed brand identity options and a strategy that included an OOH guerilla marketing campaign with supporting poster/billboard campaign, an interactive app and a moving image or animation for digital channels.

In our next article, Chevonne will share her designs and concepts. She’s been invited to continue this project using some of her volunteering hours (every Leap employee is offered the opportunity to use a set number of work hours each year to volunteer for environmental or social charities) to develop the project further because of its potential to initiate broad and impactful change.