A race against time

| 25th April 2019
2018 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony
Major sporting events have a detrimental impact on the planet.


In 2020 the eyes of the world will fall on Tokyo, where the next Olympic games will take place.

In December 2022 Qatar will become the first Arab state to host the FIFA World Cup, followed by the Beijing Winter Olympics in the February of that year.

What effects will these major sporting events have on the planet?

Environmental footprint

It is no wonder that prestigious events are so sought after, considering the enticement of riches, tourism and regeneration of their communities. However, these major events are causing damage which may be slipping under the radar.

The environmental issues that arise with these events include everything from building new stadiums, new hotels and in some cases new cities.

When Qatar controversially won their World Cup bid in 2010, the final was (and still is) scheduled to take place in the Lusail Iconic Stadium, a stadium which is yet to be built, in a city (Lusail), which is yet to be finished.

In preparation for the 2014 World Cup, Brazil spent $300million building the 44,000 capacity Arena de Amazônia in the city of Manaus. This stadium was also used in the 2016 Olympic Games. Now it lies virtually abandoned.

The carbon emissions that come with building new stadiums also is a substantial issue. Large stadiums come with a large environmental footprint, food waste and the energy needed to power the stadia are just two things that have a negative effect on the planet and with the world needing to reduce its emissions this is worrying.

Global events

The negative effects of travelling to these events is also a significant factor in increasing the damage to our planet. Devoted spectators clock up thousands of air miles in their quest to see sporting history made and to be able to boast “I was there.”

It won’t be an easy task to change this trend. Other sports are leaving their traditional homes in order to travel the world – in an increasing variety of events.

The Tennis ATP tour schedules prestigious matches all around the globe and American Football is also starting to follow suit with games being held in London every season. Indeed, Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium has been designed in the knowledge they will be hosting such games.

Matt Chilton is a sports journalist who regularly covers global events. He’s attended 13 Olympic Games (both summer and winter) and has been a regular for the BBC as a commentator for Wimbledon. He thinks that it’s a tricky situation to be in: “I think that something needs to change when it comes to major tournaments.

“I think that tennis is very guilty sport. The ATP tour begins in Australia in January and concludes in London in November with only a break really in December but there are still exhibitions in Asia that month."

Policy shift

Chilton continued: “The amount of air miles that the players cover is ridiculous. But how can you stop that when every country wants to hold a tournament? 

Do you say we’re only going to play Tennis events in Europe, and everybody can travel by train? But then what about the US open, the Australian open and all the rest? What can we do about that?

“It would take a massive shift in policy to try and reduce their carbon footprint. The Alpine Ski Racing programme is another.

“It starts in Austria in October, then it moves to North America in November and then it comes back to Europe for January and quite often it will head to Asia for maybe a weekend, before returning to Europe.

"That strikes me as being irresponsible when Europe has enough mountains, ski resorts, ski runs and snow for it all to be held here. But I think commercial considerations are obviously winning out with that.”

Sense of urgency

What then can these events do to change for the better? Jamie Peters, an environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth says that sporting organisations need to be doing all they can to move away from a disposable ethos and buck the trend to ensure change.

Peters said: “If you’re organising the Olympics or European championships you must be taking all the steps you can to make them cleaner because there is going to be a spotlight on them.

“People aren’t stupid. When they see things like a World Cup being held in the desert but taking place in air-conditioned stadiums, they know that it’s nonsense. I’m obviously referring to the Qatar world cup.

“But I think it works two ways. These big institutions like FIFA and UEFA are going to be pressured from the grassroots up. People will be expecting them to do more.

"Some of these organisations historically have only ever acted when they’ve been forced to act, and I think we’re going to be seeing society demand big changes.

“All of these big sporting events will have to move away from this disposable culture that’s been created within the last generation and they’re going to have to do it really quickly. The onus will be on them to show a sense of urgency.”

Climate action 

Change is starting to happen. Numerous organisations have signed up to the Sports for Climate Action Framework in a concerted bid to raise awareness and to encourage action to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.

The International Olympic Committee, FIFA and Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics have all signed up, and the French Tennis Federation – Roland Garros - have also committed to tackling the problem.

The starting gun has been fired but it’s a race against time.

This Author 

Andrew Gate is a final-year Sports Journalism student at Staffordshire University and freelance journalist. He has recently branched out and written a number of pieces on the effects of climate change and sustainability in sport. Twitter: @GateAndrew  

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