The Environmental Impact of European Football and the Need for Sustainable Solutions

European football is expanding, with more teams, more games, and more flights. However, this growth comes at a significant cost to the environment. According to BBC Sport research, the upcoming season could result in teams and fans flying about two billion air miles, releasing nearly half a million tonnes of greenhouse gases. This raises questions about the commitment of UEFA, the governing body of European football, to reduce its climate impact. While UEFA has made efforts to address sustainability, such as investing in green initiatives for Euro 2024, there are concerns that these measures are not enough to counterbalance the increasing carbon footprint of the sport.

One suggestion to reduce emissions is for UEFA to stop issuing tickets to away fans for Champions League, Europa League, and Europa Conference League matches. This proposal aims to decrease the carbon footprint associated with fan travel. However, it may face opposition from supporters who value the atmosphere created by away fans in stadiums. Nevertheless, with the urgency of the climate crisis, fundamental behavior changes are necessary, and UEFA should consider such measures.

While fan travel is a significant contributor to emissions, the environmental impact of team travel is even higher due to the use of private charter planes. Premier League clubs have been criticized for taking domestic private charter flights and using positioning flights, which involve flying near-empty planes to convenient airports before transporting players and staff. Expanding tournaments only exacerbates this issue, as fixture congestion is often cited as a reason for using private charters. However, UEFA claims it has no operational control over team travel.

To address the environmental impact of European football, UEFA has joined the United Nations Sport for Climate Action Framework. This commitment requires UEFA to halve its emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2040. For Euro 2024, UEFA is investing in sustainability initiatives, including discounted rail tickets and local transport passes to encourage environmentally friendly travel. However, the majority of emissions will still come from supporters traveling from other European countries, highlighting the need for further action.

Critics argue that UEFA’s focus on economic sustainability, driven by revenue redistribution to clubs, may overshadow its commitment to environmental sustainability. While clubs are encouraged to have sustainability strategies and managers, there is a concern that the emphasis on profit could compromise efforts to reduce carbon footprints. This raises questions about whether the growth of European football is aligned with the urgent need to address climate change.

It is crucial for both UEFA and clubs to prioritize sustainable practices to minimize the environmental impact of European football. This includes exploring alternative travel options, such as encouraging teams and fans to use greener modes of transportation like trains and car-sharing. Additionally, stadiums should implement eco-friendly measures, reduce waste, and promote renewable energy sources. UEFA should also collaborate with national associations, clubs, and leagues to develop comprehensive sustainability plans.

In the face of climate change and extreme weather events, football’s smaller teams, lower leagues, and grassroots players are the ones likely to bear the brunt of the impacts. It is important to recognize that the responsibility to combat climate change within European football extends beyond UEFA and individual clubs. The entire football community, from governing bodies to players, sponsors, and fans, must actively contribute to sustainable practices and prioritize the health of the planet over profit.

European football’s influence reaches far and wide, transcending borders and attracting millions of supporters. By embracing sustainability and implementing necessary changes, European football can set a positive example for other sports and industries. It is crucial for all stakeholders to collaborate, innovate, and take decisive action to ensure that the beautiful game does not contribute further to climate change but becomes a force for positive change instead.