UEFA faces criticism over carbon footprint for Euro finals

Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta lifts the trophy as his teammates celebrate after winning the UEFA Europa League final between Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Maxime Shipenkov/EPA]

Criticism over football’s carbon footprint erupted as English clubs fans had to travel thousands of kilometres to see their teams play European finals in Spain and Azerbaijan. 

Emirates Stadium (Arsenal) and Stanford Bridge (Chelsea) are only 13 kilometres away. However, the English teams had to travel 4,000 kilometres to play the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, on Wednesday (29 May).

When the final was awarded to Baku, few could have expected that two English teams would be in it. Furthermore, football federations have a policy of promoting football globally and bringing the greatest footballers to an audience that rarely sees the best of the best.

According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a trip of 12,000 supporters from London to Azerbaijan’s capital has an estimated carbon footprint of around 5,595 tonnes of CO2.  

The same goes for the Champions League final, as Tottenham and Liverpool will travel more than a thousand kilometres to Madrid on Saturday (1 June). “These decisions, they must be much more sensible and reasonable. It looks irresponsible,” said Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool coach.

“With Madrid, it’s unbelievably expensive, but it’s not another part of the world at least,” Klopp told reporters. “Going to Baku for a Europa League final is really funny, I think,” he said.

“UEFA needs an urgent rethink of its climate-hostile plans in the face of the climate emergency,” said Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of UK’s Green Party. The Greens argued the matches should be relocated in Britain to avoid the potential emissions.

“Governments, businesses and art institutions around the world are starting to recognise that we are in a climate emergency, and the carbon consequences of any decision need to be a priority,” Areeba Hamid, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, told EURACTIV.

UEFA to offset emissions 

The decision that Baku and Madrid will host the Europa and Champions league finals, respectively, was taken back in 2017.

But beyond the cup finals, the Euro 2020 will take place in stadiums all across Europe, from London to Saint Petersburg, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the tournament. The competition usually takes place in only one nation.

The organisation of the event as a truly pan-European tournament raised similar concerns, as the carbon footprint will be even bigger. UEFA announced it has set up a programme to offset the emissions generated by fans travelling to Euro 2020 at the end of the tournament.

In 2016, UEFA encouraged supporters to compensate themselves their own carbon footprint through an app. This time, the organisation has committed to do it itself.

“UEFA will compensate for the carbon emissions of the travels of all supporters,” Patrick Gasser, Head of Football & Social Responsibility Unit, explained during the EU Green Week in Brussels.

However, for Greenpeace’s Areeba Hamid, this is not enough. “The decision to hold the European final in Baku wasn’t good for fans of the sport or the planet. The answer is not business as usual with some sort of bolted on ‘initiative’ to greenwash it,”  she said.

“UEFA need to have another look at their priorities and make sure our survival is one of them. Football is a low-carbon game, it doesn’t need to be a high-carbon business,” said Hamid.

French professional League and WWF join forces to boost sustainability in football

The French professional football governing body and the environmental NGO WWF signed a partnership in April to reduce the ecological footprint of football clubs.

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