Global climate change threatens the future of football

Did Qatar manage to organize a “carbon neutral” tournament?

The World Cup in Qatar continues to stir controversy in a way that no major sporting competition has before. While some Olympic and World Cup tournaments were known for their numerous attractions before the Second World War, and during the escalation of the Cold War between the Eastern and Western camps, the current World Cup has gone far beyond the football dimension, in which the athlete is mixed with the political, legal and cultural, along with the carbon dimension.

Not far from the heat of competition at this world championship and the enthusiasm of its followers, the heat of the weather was the main motive for the World Cup matches to start in the winter season for the first time since its inception in 1930. at the same time, greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on global warming are another thorny issue that the tournament has raised in an unprecedented way. In addition to the carbon footprint of the facilities and associated activities, questions have been raised about the emissions resulting from cooling the stadium during hot periods. The organizers tried to solve part of this problem by using renewable energy sources, especially the sun, to create part of the electricity needs.

Carbon emissions in FIFA reports

Qatar has been witnessing a boom in the field of construction for the football tournament for almost a decade. He built seven new stadiums, 30 training facilities, thousands of hotel rooms and expanded Doha International Airport. The country is among the hottest and driest in the world, as it faces worsening heat waves and water shortages as climate change intensifies.

FIFA predicts that this year’s World Cup-related activities will generate 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the energy use of around 460,000 homes for an entire year. According to the latest emissions report issued by FIFA, air travel and accommodation represent the largest source of tournament-related emissions; At which around 1.5 million fans from all over the world are expected. FIFA and Qatar plan to offset the inevitable emissions with carbon credits and other measures such as planting trees.

According to the same report, stadium construction accounts for around 18 percent of the tournament’s carbon emissions. Of the seven new stadiums built for the competition in Qatar, World Cup organizers plan to completely dismantle one stadium and reduce the capacity of the others by almost half. As for the temporary seats, the organizers are considered responsible for only 70 days of the show, which is the duration of the tournament, in addition to the duration of the two Club World Cups that preceded the World Cup.

On the other hand, the Carbon Market Watch group points out that the methodology adopted in the latest FIFA report is inconsistent with its previous reports, which stated that the age of the stadium could reach 60 years. The group estimates that the total carbon footprint of the six permanent stadiums will be up to eight times higher than the carbon calculation adopted by the organizers.

On the other hand, the eight stadiums used in the World Cup are located about 50 kilometers from the center of Doha. Although the high concentration of stadiums reduces emissions associated with fan travel, the facilities could create long-term problems for the city’s 2.4 million residents.

Deciding what to do with the remaining stadiums is a familiar problem for cities that have hosted major sporting events, such as the World Cup or the Olympics. These places are known as “white elephants”, due to their high cost and global level, and they often fall into disrepair and occupy a large area, draining local resources.

The organizers of the World Cup in Qatar have announced their intention to get rid of all the “white elephants” by drawing up plans to turn the remaining stadiums into community centers, hotels and educational centers. For example, the “Al Janoub Stadium”, which can accommodate more than 44,000 spectators, is set to become the headquarters of the Al Wakrah club. After the World Cup, the capacity of the stadium will be reduced to 20,000 seats, and it is not known what will happen to the stadium, which has been used by the home team until now, and can accommodate around 12,000 fans.

As for the temporary stadium “Stadion 974”, the organizers have not yet revealed any concrete plans on how, or even the possibility of reusing the shipping containers in which the stadium was built. Accumulated emissions during transport and rebuilding of materials used in carbon calculations are not included.

FIFA is expected to publish an updated emissions report after the tournament, measures in line with its many initiatives to achieve three main goals, including preparing football for climate action, protecting major tournaments from the negative effects of climate change, and ensuring that football is resistant to climatic conditions. But will these initiatives be enough to protect the future of world football tournaments from the effects of climate change?

Football and adaptation to climate change

Over the past few years, many major sporting events have been exposed to extreme weather. In 2019, a seasonal typhoon caused the postponement of several matches during the Rugby World Cup in Japan. The 2020 Australian Open saw the air become unbreathable due to bushfires, and the same year the marathon course at the Tokyo Olympics was moved hundreds of kilometers north to avoid high temperatures. Concerns about the future of the Winter Olympics are growing as global warming rises.

Historical data and current emissions scenarios reveal that rising sea levels, extreme heat waves, the risk of large fires, flooding and deteriorating air quality will pose a significant threat to football matches, both amateur and professional.

Football is not only a victim of climate change, it also contributes to increased emissions. This is evidenced by the carbon footprint of English Premier League players, which is estimated at 29 tonnes of CO2e per year from travel alone, an amount that is almost three times the annual carbon footprint of UK citizens and far exceeds the global target of two tonnes per person to meet the obligations of of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The concern of a number of football associations is currently focused on the problems of low air quality and high air temperature, which, in addition to a drop in performance, can affect the health of athletes, spectators and sports workers. Major League Soccer has set specific thresholds for holding matches during hot weather, and the Alberta Soccer Federation in Canada has issued air quality guidelines.

And as conditions of high air temperature will become more frequent in the near future, postponement and cancellation of many football matches and tournaments is expected. Fires are likely to have a significant impact on football infrastructure, natural turf will deteriorate due to drought and irrigation restrictions during the summer, and pitches will be affected by increasingly harsh winter conditions.

A 2013 UK study of 460 sports clubs found that some stadiums lose between 3 and 13 weeks of use per year due to heavy rainfall. In the long term, rising seas and frequent flooding are likely to pose a temporary or permanent threat to the activities of sports clubs, jeopardizing the future of football in some parts of the world if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory. Flooding has already caused stadiums in France’s Montpellier in 2014 and Britain’s Carlisle in 2015 to be out of action for several months.

While pitches with artificial grass represent an interesting solution that enables the organization of matches during longer periods of the year, these pitches lead to the creation of heat islands, whose surface temperature is between 12 and 22 degrees Celsius higher than that of natural grass. High heat levels increase heat stress for players and increase the risks to their health and performance. The same applies to the health of referees, coaches and fans.

Air pollution negatively affects the quantity and quality of passes, distances traveled and high-intensity efforts of professional players, and high pollution can significantly reduce the number of goals scored during matches. Decades of empirical evidence suggest that home teams are more likely to win than away teams, especially when the opposing team comes from a less polluted city. This is related to the home team getting used to the air quality in their stadiums, which affects their performance less.

Thanks to its reach and ability to reach a wide audience, football can play a major role in environmental transformation, including strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. FIFA was one of the first international sports federations to commit to the United Nations Sports Climate Framework by adopting a strategy in this regard.

And the football world must very quickly move from a reactive approach to a proactive one, by taking a series of preventive measures, among which the determination of the date in accordance with the weather conditions in the host country is at the forefront, thus reducing the need for cooling. stadiums. National and international competitions must also be restructured to reduce travel for athletes and fans, encourage the use of public and shared transport and improve safety measures, such as increasing rest time during matches, making more substitutions for players and ensuring protection against burns. the sun for the spectators.

One of the most important achievements of the tournament in Qatar was breaking down the barriers that hindered the holding of the tournament in hot areas, moving the traditional date from summer to winter and starting to use renewable energy technologies on a large scale in stadiums, so that no nation is denied the right to be a part sports activities. Globalism. And given that football will not be the only victim and influence of climate change, urgent action is needed from the sports community as a whole to continue playing safely and fun.

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