A Carbon Neutral World Cup? We sense greenwashing….

How sustainable is the Qatar World Cup?

New World Cup Stadiums are key part of sustainability planning

With plenty of developments in UK football that have signalled a shift towards more environmental awareness and responsibility (we’ve ourselves been involved in providing Aston Villa with stainless steel bottles as part of their push), it would be easier than ever to believe claims about the first carbon neutral World Cup. But like many things that we’d like to believe in (sustainable clothing ranges on the high street and ‘compostable’ packaging to name a few) these claims could be too good to be true. Here’s why…

FIFA World Cup Sustainability Strategy Issues…

Carbon footprint projections by world cup hosts often rely on the fact that stadiums will remain active after the main event, to spread the emissions over a number of years and therefore make them appear less. However, as has happened with previous World Cup venues, it is possible that the purpose built arenas will in fact be a burden rather than an asset – each becoming a ‘white elephant’ that requires upkeep but is unnecessarily large in comparison to the popularity/magnitude of professional football in Qatar. A similar effect happened in South Africa after their World Cup in 2010, with Johannesburg needing to bid for the 2020 Olympics in order to prolong the usefulness of their 90,000 seater ‘Soccer City’ stadium, which is just down the road from the 60,000 capacity Ellis Park (which has a track record of being suitable itself for large sporting events, having hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final). 

In Qatar however, plans have been outlined to turn the 80,000 seater Lusail stadium into a community hub, offering housing, shops, schools and cafes. Furthermore, the Ras Abu Aboud stadium will be taken apart completely completely, having being made originally out of nearly 1000 recycled shipping containers.

Qatar Airways Emissions

The compact design of the tournament is also being cited by organisers as a key movement towards sustainability, with stadiums being no more than 75km apart and all fans, players and staff flying into one airport. 5 of the stadiums are also on the Doha metro network. But the sheer number of flights (13,000 daily) entering the country brings with it a mountain of C02, especially when easily overlooked cargo is taken in to consideration – grass seeds flown in on climate controlled planes from North America, for example. With Qatar Airways as the sponsor of the tournament, air travel is in the DNA of the event – however the related offsetting schemes (including windfarms and a hydroelectric plant) have been criticised for their irrelevance. The location of Qatar makes it virtually impossible for fans to travel in any other way, which raises the question as to whether they should have been awarded the tournament in the first place – although other bidders including Australia would have faced a similar issue. Another official sponsor of the tournament is QatarEnergy, who deal in liquefied natural gas (which had been heralded the cleanest fossil fuel). But LNG is a fossil fuel all the same, making it appear out of place as a sponsor of a ‘carbon neutral’ event.

Are World Cup Organisers Greenwashing Us?

Worst of all, other than a token bit of ‘awareness raising’ about the plastics issue (through series of workshops aimed at local organisations), it appears waste caused by the tournament has not been at the forefront of environmental policy this World Cup.

The claims could therefore be seen as greenwashing, as even if they are true for the 4 week period in which the tournament is taking place, the emissions released during the build-up and in the wake of the event don’t appear to have been taken into account. Plus, however good the intentions of FIFA and Qatari organisers, international sports tournaments are inherently bad for the environment – even leading big sports fans such as ourselves to ask…is all this necessary?







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