Can sporting events ever be sustainable?
By Jamie Walker - Prince Henry's Grammar School Sixth Form student
2022 is a big year for global sporting events; the FIFA World Cup is taking place in Qatar in late November/early December, and Birmingham has recently welcomred the Commonwealth Games. Both these big sports competitions have pledged to be carbon neutral - Otley 2030 is trying to work out whether this is actually possible.
Let's kick off with the 2022 FIFA World Cup...
...first of all, it's being held in Qatar which is notorious for having the largest carbon footprint per capita in the world. This is already a problem because it suggests the country can do very little in terms of running the event sustainably. Secondly, there has been uproar that for the first time ever, the tournament will be held in the middle of the regular football season, rather than during the summer off-season period; the reason being it's simply too hot in Qatar in June/July. Temperatures in the country frequently rise above 40 degrees Celsius during the summer months, which is dangerous not only for competitors, but also fans attending matches, as well as officials and staff members. Climate change is naturally contributing to rising temperatures across the globe and this could be a sign of things to come. If temperatures in the summer keep increasing at such a rate, then FIFA will have to reconsider what time of year all major football tournaments are held. This will not just affect football, but all other sports as well.
However, Qatar 2022 has made an announcement to be carbon neutral and despite its reputation, the nation is trying its best to make it more sustainable by carrying out measures such as using solar-powered air-conditioning and electricity in all stadiums. They are also trying to reduce distances between stadiums for fans attempting to watch multiple games in a day. Most stadiums are going to be within a few stops of the Doha Metro (a new rapid transport system which cost $30bn to build itself!). This is a significant improvement compared to the previous world cup held in Russia back in 2018, where many teams had to take a flight that often lasted a couple of hours to travel between stadiums.
There are also some huge downsides to Qatar hosting the prestigious event for the first time. The key point is that most stadiums are being newly built from scratch or existing stadiums are being heavily renovated to cope with the demand of 60,000 capacity crowds or more. The amount of greenhouse gases produced from this construction and renovation works is staggering and in addition, much construction is still occurring during this summer in the exhausting daytime temperatures, leading to many workers falling ill, or even dying from heatstroke or exhaustion! It has even been suggested that more fixtures will take place without the presence of fans due to the conditions projected in the future.
Despite the cooler conditions of playing in late November/early December, temperatures in the middle east will still be very warm compared to most other countries across the world and Qatar 2022 has agreed to supply and improve access to cold and clean water to all players, fans and officials. As Qatar is a high-income country, it has lots of money available to spend on desalination plants; a very expensive process that involves extracting sea water and removing the salt from it to make it healthy to drink. This process uses incredibly high amounts of energy, which is certainly not environmentally friendly.
Transporting everybody to the tournament will also have a huge impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Many teams will have to endure long flights to reach Qatar, so the carbon footprint of the event significantly increases when you factor in transportation of players, coaches, fans, media and officials - that's 32 teams plus everybody else needed to make the event run smoothly - which will require a huge number of flights. This is very bad for our planet.
Much closer to home...
... let's talk about another major global sporting event happening in 2022, which is the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. The event organisers, similar to Qatar 2022, announced aims to be totally carbon neutral. They have already made strides towards this because 90% of venues have previously been used at other sporting events and recycling bins were implemented at all venues used for the games with a clear indication as to what could and what could not be recycled and. Before it even started, this event had already gone one better than the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens, which made many pledges to be environmentally friendly, most of which failed - one of which was the installation of recycling bins.
The event directors have also made it explicit that they want people to use public transport as much as possible when travelling to and from the event. Birmingham's electric trams - the West Midlands Metro - has recently opened a brand-new extension to Edgbaston, where fans will be able to watch cricket matches. There is also a good rail network in and around the area linking many places that are host stadiums.
Birmingham 2022 has also said they will provide locally sourced food and drink under all circumstances, to reduce food miles. Food miles is the distance food travels from being grown/sourced to market and then to your plate; the smaller this is, the better for the environment.
In conclusion, we've established that both events are doing what they can to be as 'eco-friendly', and, while there are flaws for both, there are some very positive steps being taken. But is it enough? The question remains - can sporting events ever be 100% sustainable?