Football must do more to tackle climate change: this is how clubs and fans can help
Climate change is a defining global issue, and football is not exempt. Roughly a quarter of England’s 92 league clubs could be regularly flooded within the next three decades, and the average grassroots pitch in England already loses five weeks a season to bad weather. Sport is also a significant contributor to climate change, with an estimated global carbon footprint the equivalent size of Tunisia’s – and that is at the low end of estimates.
It’s tempting to ask fans to reduce our carbon bootprint – but how can we use public transport on matchdays, when it’s often too expensive and sometimes unavailable? There were no trains running from the north-west to Wembley when Liverpool and Manchester City competed in the FA Cup semi-final. The FA provided 100 buses, enough for 5,000 fans.
There is merit to meat-free food options, but it’s a half-baked solution when the energy used to heat pies and light stadiums isn’t even from a renewable source. It’s unhelpful to expect perfection – but we must push for better.
When the government announced a fan-led review of English football governance, “securing the game’s future”, colleagues and I expected environmental sustainability to be acknowledged. While awareness of the link between football and climate change is low, a recent YouGov survey found concern for the environment is at an all-time high among the British public.
The fan-led review references financial sustainability as “clearly the single most important factor” in the context of the challenges facing English football – but does not make a single reference to environmental sustainability or climate change.
Climate change poses a serious financial risk to English football. Just ask Carlisle, who were forced out of their stadium by Storm Desmond for seven weeks at a cost of almost £3m. The club’s chief executive, Nigel Clibbens, has since become an active advocate for action, recently quoting scientific studies that Desmond was 59% more likely to occur because of climate change.
However, environmental sustainability in English football presents a great opportunity. Clubs can make financial savings by eliminating energy inefficiencies and upgrading to environmentally sustainable infrastructure. They can also attract unique sponsors – another attractive form of income. For evidence, look no further than Forest Green Rovers, verified by the UN as “the world’s most sustainable club” and recently promoted to League One.