The 2023 World Cup: another missed opportunity for serious climate action

The 2023 World Cup has started. This time, FIFA did not make misleading claims that the World Cup would be ‘carbon neutral’. The sustainability strategy published for this World Cup does not not make clear what the expected emissions are, how they will be measured and how they compare themselves to previous tournaments. Without all this, it’s impossible to hold the organisers accountable. What is clear, is that this World Cup will be the biggest ever, with 8 more teams and 12 more matches than the 2019 edition. All the air travel this necessitates will lead to more emissions.

This biggest source of emissions, fan travel, is not even mentioned in the sustainability strategy for this World Cup. One sensible measure – especially when the World Cup is organised so far from most participating countries – would be to focus ticket sales on local fans, rather than international fans that have to fly.

The sustainability plan does mention training on climate, local sourcing of products and certification of the stadiums. These are important steps, but it is rather piecemeal when big issues – as mentioned before – remain unadressed.

Polluting sponsors get a big podium

Furthermore, this World Cup gives another huge platform to big polluters. FIFA again sells its advertising space to Qatar Airways amongst others. National teams are sponsored by fossil fuel companies, airlines, banks with massive fossil fuel financing portfolios and crypto companies (see an overview here). It’s time for a fossil ad ban. FIFA should no longer allow polluting industries to advertise their harmful products. All the (young) fans around the world do not need to see their heroes be running advertisements for companies that threaten a liveable future.

Ever expanding football calendar

Besides this particular World Cup, FIFA is still going all-in on expanding the football calendar. This has a negative impact on player welfare, as regularly reported on by FIFPRO, and on a liveable planet. If FIFA wants to reduce its emissions by 50% in 2030 compared to 2019 levels, as it committed to under the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, it has to reorganise the football calendar.

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