The World Cup in Qatar is a climate catastrophe

When the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the world governing body for football, announced that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar would be “a completely carbon neutral event”, the collective laughter of environmentalists could have powered a wind farm. Environmental nonprofit Carbon Market Watch has blown up FIFA’s so-called “creative accounting” and issued a report claiming World Cup organizers’ stated goal of “achieving carbon neutrality before the start of the tournament.” ‘, be imaginative at best. Calculations of the carbon footprint, according to the report, “can only take place after the event”, i.e. the announcement of the net zero status in advance, “is premature and not feasible”.

As football fans’ passions erupt during the World Cup, it makes sense to slow down and rationalize FIFA’s sustainability claims. The stakes are higher than ever: The effects of climate degradation continue to intensify around the world, and the United Nations Environment Program is imploring nations to “urge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the impact of climate change.” While the carbon footprint of 64 football matches played in a single month may seem insignificant compared to the enormous climate challenge we face collectively, FIFA’s slippery stance symbolizes the all-too-common deceptive practices employed by many organizations , corporations and governments dupe people into believing they are addressing climate change when they are doing little instead.

For many, the World Cup organizers’ claim of a “completely carbon neutral” tournament in Qatar carries the unmistakable air of greenwashing: a public display of concern for the environment and a penchant for claiming credit for providing solutions while providing essentials do, if anything, to achieve actual environmental improvements. And that doesn’t just apply to football: most mega sporting events are CO2 catastrophes. In short, that’s a virtue signal wrapped in a sporty green cloak, the kind of “covert narcissism… disguise.”[d] than altruism,” which Taylor Swift warned us about in her song “Anti-Hero.” Greenwashing is not only rooted in deception, but structures permission to further pollute the status quo when in reality we urgently need to act.

The World Cup in Qatar is developing into an absolute greenwash. In its most recent report, Carbon Market Watch found that FIFA ignored huge carbon sources and underestimated emissions by a factor of eight when calculating the carbon footprint for the construction of seven new stadiums. The tournament’s matches will be played in eight stadiums, only one of which predates the World Cup. One of the new venues – dubbed Stadium 974 because it was built using 974 shipping containers – will be dismantled for reuse after the mega-event, a process that carries its own carbon footprint. The Carbon Market Watch report found that many of Qatar’s “old plans raise questions about how sustainable they will be in practice” given their unworldly “accounting methodology” based on assumptions about local demand for World Cup-quality stadiums after the disaster rests The competition.

World Cup hosts often claim that stadiums built for the tournament will remain robust and durable in use even after it has ended – a claim that allows them to spread their carbon footprint over many years, rather than during construction and of the event at once. A spokesman for the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, one of the World Cup organizers, said Bloomberg that it is “working to ensure there are no post-tournament ‘white elephants’ by developing legacy uses for all tournament venues.” But it’s hard to believe that the cavernous FIFA-standard stadiums being built for the event were used regularly in the coming years – even if they are slightly reduced in size afterwards. Finally, Qatar football culture is relatively undeveloped. Even football-loving countries like Russia, Brazil and South Africa – hosts of the last three men’s World Cups – were left with a herd of white elephant stadiums.

In addition to the carbon costs of the stadiums, Qatar expects a whopping 1,300 daily flights to and from the country during the World Cup. But that’s not the only source of aircraft emissions. The grass seeds that make up the tournament’s pristine pitches were flown in from North America on air-conditioned planes. And these fields will not water themselves. The groundskeepers who maintain the stadium’s eight playing fields and 136 practice fields pour 10,000 liters of desalinated water on each field every day in winter. In summer, the pitches each require a whopping 50,000 liters. The energy-intensive desalination process required in Qatar due to the country’s negligible surface and groundwater supply only adds to the carbon footprint.

In addition, FIFA’s sustainability claims are highly dependent on carbon offset programs. Offsetting programs, which allow people and businesses to purchase carbon credits paid for environmental projects around the world in exchange for offsetting their own carbon footprint, are notorious not only for being ineffective but also for being Countries embarking on “carbon colonialism” are tasked in the Global South with implementing carbon offset projects that ultimately only benefit the environmental books of the Global North. For example, an investigation by the Oakland Institute found that Green Resources, a Norwegian-registered forestry company, has set up carbon offset programs in Uganda that have resulted in the destruction of the livelihoods of more than 8,000 people through forced displacement and pollution.

The organizers of the World Cup in Qatar helped set up their own carbon offsetting agency called the Global Carbon Council, which has so far approved three projects: a Hydroelectric power station and a wind farm in Turkey and a wind farm in Serbia. But Gilles Dufrasne, a member of Carbon Market Watch’s policy team, said Le Monde, “These are renewable energy projects that are generally excluded from the carbon market system. Buying these credits has no positive impact on the climate as they do not affect the profitability of the project that generates them.”

FIFA’s greenwashing also extends to sponsorship. Earlier this year, QatarEnergy, one of the world’s largest suppliers of liquefied natural gas, was signed as an official FIFA sponsor. According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, liquefied natural gas isn’t the vaunted “bridging fuel” that boosters promise: Such gas may actually prevent the transition to renewable energy if people choose to do so, rather than go straight to greener options like wind or solar switch. However, FIFA’s announcement of the deal said that QatarEnergy was “responsible for the development of clean energy resources”. Hydrocarbon sponsorship is pure greenwashing and has no place in the age of climate change.

We are looking at a climate catastrophe. The World Cup in Qatar shows that FIFA-style sustainability is a bit like trying to buy Bigfoot with a bucket of cryptocurrency: just believing something is real doesn’t mean it’s real.

Sports mega-events are popular with elected officials and well-placed business elites because they set the stage for grinning photo ops full of backroom backslapping and deal-cutting. As billions of dollars flow through the global sports system, mega-events bring money, power and prestige close. Amid this high-stakes money mix, environmental concerns are often sidelined and sidelined. Governments, sports organizations like FIFA and their corporate partners continue to get away with it because there is almost no independent oversight and therefore little accountability.

Football is not alone in this. Three of the most recent Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020, Rio de Janeiro 2016 and Sochi 2014 – had some of the worst environmental sustainability scores. When it comes to sports mega-events, sustainability claims tend to be more ambitious than verifiable.

All of this raises an important question: Is it even possible to organize a sports mega-event in a climate-neutral manner? The ever-increasing scale of these events is likely to put net-zero emissions out of reach. A recent study found that between 1964 and 2018, the World Cup and Olympic Games grew 60-fold in terms of the number of sports, athletes, journalists, spectators, marketing and related costs. Abolishing new stadium construction could help limit emissions, but that would essentially mean creating a short list of potential hosts who are primarily historically most responsible for global warming. The carbon footprint of travel – which FIFA says accounts for 52 per cent of all emissions from Qatar’s World Cup – is etched into the global tournament and is difficult to avoid unless the number of fans traveling has been restricted, a prospect that is difficult to imagine .

Sport mega-events as they are currently being organized are not sustainable. Since FIFA and the International Olympic Committee stepped up their environmental claims in the 1990s, their events have grown in size and their impact ever more severe. Greenwashing stuns the public to the environmental impact of sporting mega-events, and double-assumes that individual consumer choices will mitigate the unfolding ecological crisis. Greenwashing dulls the reality that sporting mega-events are shape-shifting vehicles for global capital, leaving indelible marks on cities, ecosystems and our collective future.


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