How does the World Cup impact the environment?

2022-02-01

 |  Biodiversity/Conservation

We’re just a year away from the next World Cup, which is being held in Qatar. Certainly, the excitement and drama rises with fans back in stadiums and players firing on all cylinders across Europe’s top leagues. Everyone is eyeing up the World Cup, including managers, players, fans, coaching staff, and companies. It never fails; every time it takes your breath away. From magical moments to dreamy nights, every country has a perceptible burdening of belief with that bit of a stomach hope that they can get far in the tournament. When the limelight shines, surely everyone is there for the beautiful game, but what about the effects that are seen afterwards? 

Today and tomorrow, it is important to have a focus on environmental sustainability. The organizers of the World Cup, FIFA, unfortunately have a track record that speaks otherwise. The 2014 World Cup held in Brazil was the costliest World Cup ever, with unthinkable impacts on the environment. Pollution across streets and utter lack of intelligence towards the environment proved to be harmful. It generated 2.72m tonnes of CO2 emissions, which to compare this behemoth of a number is equivalent to 560,000 cars of emission output across a timeline of a year. 

Now, a glance back to 2018, the World Cup in Russia, also proved to lack a focus on sustainability. Sacrifices too small, as they were thought. In Kaliningrad, an island known as October Island is an ecological site consisting of wetlands and a place for many birds to live. An ironic twist! A World Cup stadium that was built to the highest and modern environmental standards was built on one of the few last natural wetlands. Of course the building processes and project ideologies are prepared before the tournament, but one can be in a thoughtful state to reach the depth of environmental impacts through the huge scale of construction and management of the World Cup, no matter what type of modern environmental standards are put in place. 

As is being said by FIFA, they have committed to a carbon-neutral World Cup for 2022. The early bids from Qatar demonstrated a new technology for cooling stadiums, nearby areas, and training grounds using modern technology. Since the temperatures are very high and warm throughout the year but cool off a little towards the end, the tournament is being held in November and December of 2022. The technology addresses the concern of heat during matches and is also a push for environmental standards. Through the use of solar panels to collect solar energy, the energy is then used upon phase change materials which cools air through the ventilation system. All eight stadiums in place for 2022 are being built around a minimum four star system from the Global Sustainability Assessment System. A huge jump for Qatar is the use of a brand-new public transportation system. The Doha Metro aims to shift at least 25% of its current buses to electrical buses by 2022. It will also encourage fans and tourists to use this system to get in and out of games and to attend parties/festivals. A glimpse of this sort of approach was seen in Germany in 2006’s World Cup. Germany had incentivized fans and tourists by encouraging them to travel on free public transport, and bikes had free parking spaces available. This is encouraging of course, but it remains to be read in the history books when the tournament in Qatar is over. 

As time spins around the clock and the day count tallies lower and lower, the drama of the World Cup will be forefront and the idea of environmental stability will fade away. There is always work to be done. Will the claims of carbon-neutrality, plans for sustainable technology, and building construction materialize? It seems as though there will need to be a discovery of someone or something from the magical dust scattering across to be a voice behind a push of environmental sustainability in the footballing world. 

It takes only one act, one voice, one trend to change how we act and think. In 2018, after Japan had beat Columbia 2-1, the Japanese fans on their side of the stadium stayed after the game to not just celebrate but to clean up the waste and garbage left behind. We all know how pollution is a huge issue in stadiums, from food waste, spills, improper recycling, and waste management. This act sparked many people across social media to appreciate those fans and also use it as inspiration to help keep their surroundings clean and environmentally friendly. This idea can be applied everywhere! The World Cup in 2026 should promote these acts, and incentivize fans to be respectful of the surroundings. These incentives can be done on a bigger scale too, for example free parking for bikers, or free passes to the electrical bus systems (if it is in place, here in Canada, in the GTA, EV transit is in testing). As fans, we are always engaged in the footballing world, and we can spread the importance of being environmentally sustainable to players, teams, clubs, and social media. Also, reaching out to FIFA is a great way to bring in innovative changes and ideas in preparations of the 2026 World Cup being held across Canada, USA, and Mexico. 

Works Cited

World Cup Stadium Built Over Russian City’s Last Rare Wildlife Habitat | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel | weather.com. (2018). The Weather Channel. https://weather.com/science/environment/news/2018-06-18-kaliningrad-stadium-russia-fifa-world-cup-october-island

Rios, B. (2020, February 18). FIFA commits to carbon-neutral 2022 football World Cup. Www.euractiv.com; EURACTIV.com. https://www.euractiv.com/section/health-consumers/news/fifa-commits-to-carbon-neutral-2022-football-world-cup/

Environmental Sustainability | See You In 2022. (2017). See You in 2022. https://www.qatar2022.qa/en/about/sustainability/environmental

Carbon Footprint vs World Cup Football: The Environmental Impact of FIFA 2014 World Cup – Public Citizen. (2019, May). Public Citizen. https://www.citizen.org/news/carbon-footprint-vs-world-cup-football-the-environmental-impact-of-fifa-2014-world-cup/