Football acknowledges its footprint

On the 19th of September 2021, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium made history by hosting the first-ever carbon neutral football match, a game which saw Chelsea beat Tottenham 3-0.

The climate crisis continues to worsen. With the hole in the ozone layer now bigger than Antarctica, it appears that only serious action from all levels of society will combat the increasingly dire situation. Football has taken its first step.

Approximately one in four English football stadiums are at risk of annual flooding within the next thirty years, with rising temperatures and extreme weather events likely leading to many matches getting cancelled, and meteorological challenges will severely hamper groundskeeper’s abilities to maintain the perfect pitches that elite football has grown accustomed to.

As a response to these challenges, Tottenham teamed up with Sky, and together they worked to minimise carbon emissions from the Super Sunday event.

Rather than driving a car, fans were encouraged to get to the game by bicycle or public transport. Also, all food served at the stadium was sustainably sourced, with attendees encouraged to choose plant-based options. They were also given additional tips on how to reduce their carbon footprint in everyday life as part of Sky’s wider campaign to #GoZero by 2030.

All other emissions generated by the event were offset by supporting reforestation projects in East Africa and by helping to create native woodlands in the UK. These kinds of carbon offset projects are designed to plant more trees and hence absorb more of the carbon dioxide that is leaked into the air.

However, some environmental groups such as Greenpeace and WWF object to carbon offset programs as a solution to the climate crisis.

Many offset projects have been said to be less effective than initially anticipated. Indeed, relying too much on them may prevent organisations from directly tackling their emissions.

Tottenham and Sky also refused to make the specifics of their net-zero calculations public, which raises the question of how well they managed to reduce and offset the game’s carbon emissions.

Elite sport has a big impact on many people’s lives, so encouraging individual lifestyle changes that promote sustainability is surely impactful. However, providing water in cartons instead of plastic bottles is not going to be enough to stop climate change. We need widespread, systemic changes, especially within big businesses and particularly in entertainment and sporting activities such as elite football.

The Premier League’s focus on constant expansion alongside partnering with sponsors, many of whom are high-polluting corporations such as airlines and fast-food chains, means the industry is currently not sustainable.

Tottenham’s efforts to reduce their environmental impact is a good start, but it cannot be the end of football’s necessary green transformation.

Image: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Ian R via Flickr

By Eliška Suchochlebová

Writer, News Editor, Inclusivity Officer