June 16, 2021

is a competition organized in 11 countries an ecological aberration?

On paper, the idea was strong. Organize a Euro throughout Europe to celebrate 60 years of European construction and the continent’s first competition, from Baku to Stockholm via London, Brussels, Saint Petersburg or Bucharest. In 2012, few voices were raised to denounce what many ultimately consider to be an ecological aberration.

In the meantime, environmental awareness has gained ground when interest in the institutions of Brussels has, at best, stagnated on the Old Continent. The opportunity to take a serious look at the carbon cost of this mega-sporting event, whose opening match, Turkey-Italy, is scheduled for Friday 11 June (at 9 p.m.). If we lack perspective and a universal method of calculation to draw definitive conclusions, it is still possible to distribute the good and the bad points.

If you are looking to compare the carbon footprints of Euros and World Cups across the ages, you will be disappointed: we have only had substantiated studies on the subject for about fifteen years. These take into account in particular the impact of construction, sometimes with the construction of new stadiums, and air transport, especially when the competition takes place outside Europe. The ecological cost estimate is measured in “tonnes of CO2 equivalent”, the commonly used unit of measurement for pollution.

At the last score, the champion in all categories of pollution remains the World Cup in South Africa (2010), a highly proportioned cocktail of the two most energy-intensive areas. “To get there, the entire planet had to travel by plane, for a competition organized in winter in coal-heated stadiums, the environmental impact of which is absolutely disastrous”, lists Didier Lehénaff, founder of the NGO SVPlanète, which seeks to “green” the major competitions. Basically, a summary of everything to avoid for a climate bill of 2.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, according to the estimate produced for Fifa.

In fact, the first environmental report (PDF) really detailed that we have dates from Euro 2016 in France. Before, we were satisfied with not always very precise graphics, expedicated on a quarter of a page and drowned in the financial statements. But just because the pagination has increased doesn’t mean you stop ticking. Between Euro 2016 with 24 teams concentrated in France, and the 2018 World Cup with 32 teams scattered throughout Russia, where is the carbon emissions chasm?

Curiously, according to the experts appointed by Fifa, the World Cup of Vladimir Putin is doing better (2.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent against 2.8). This is undoubtedly linked to the fact that the French document includes the cost of construction and renovation of the stadiums (which represent 80% of the balance sheet) when Fifa throws a modest veil. Customary to the fact, the body had praised “the greenest World Cup” after the Brazilian World Cup, by applying exactly the same method, noted a British academic on the site The Conversation.

“There really should be a standard model [d’évaluation] to avoid these small arrangements “, plague Andrew Welfle, researcher at the University of Manchester. “That said, don’t think it’s easy to calculate the carbon impact, if only supporters who use quite a variety of means of transport to get to major tournaments.” Hint in your area: only Euro 2016 has obtained the ISO 20121 label, which recognizes the sustainability of a sports competition.

We should avoid this kind of controversy for the 2021 edition. The Covid-19 has invited itself to the party, limiting the movements of supporters, subject to the European health pass. Before the pandemic, the authority estimated at 425,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent the pollution generated by its raout, which required the construction of only one stadium (in Budapest) and to boast “the most environmentally friendly tournament”. Too bad if the most motivated Swiss supporters will have to trudge 20,000 km to see the matches of the first round (first match in Baku against Wales, the second in Rome against Italy, and presto, return to Baku to face Turkey).

Gone are the days when competitions were organized to bring together a maximum of matches in a restricted geographical area: in 1982, Michel Platini’s Blues had to play their three group matches within a radius of 300 terminals, between Bilbao and Valladolid. . “UEFA has already done it without really doing it on purpose, for example, during Euro 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands, two countries where the rail network is excellent, pointe Andrew Welfle. But that’s not the trend anymore. “

That this Euro almost became a charter flight fair is only a secondary consideration for the European body. “Do you know how it works? alpague Didier Lehénaff. Rather than following the assess-reduce-compensate-communicate process with honesty and humility, we mandate a consulting company which, for a few tens of thousands of euros, carries out a carbon assessment and issues recommendations that we remain free to follow. or not. In the end, we communicate about the most glorious part of the evaluation and some quick and easy results initiatives that sound good. We bought at a lower cost a conscience and the right to pollute “. In this case, the caciques of European football have promised to plant nearly 600,000 trees, 50,000 in each country concerned. Estimated cost: 400,000 euros. The bill for the bright green ripolinage of this Euro is only a trifle for an instance which scraped 830 million in profits during the last Euro.

At the evocation of planted trees, we imagine green forests, small birds, squirrels and poppies in a clearing … The reality is quite different. “To compensate by planting trees is to bet on the future. If trees are planted under the right conditions, they will not start storing CO2 for several decades”, points out Xavier Morin, forestry specialist and research director at the CNRS. “Often it’s done economically, with just one species, old forests are cut down to plant new ones and receive the subsidy that goes with it. And very often there is no tracking over time. ”

But should we see everything in black, sorry, in gray, the color of exhaust gas on the Parisian periphery during rush hour? There are grounds for hope: some new stadiums are environmental models, such as the Allianz Riviera in Nice (host city of the Euro in 2016, but not in 2021), which operates using solar panels and recovers the rainwater to tend towards carbon neutrality in its operation. It may be a detail, but it is also Nice, which was the only city in 2016 to bend Coca-Cola so that the American giant delivers its drinks in bulk, in large barrels, and not in bottles. plastic – the nightmare of environmentalists.

A supporter of Wales poses proudly in the middle of a street littered with waste, after the victory of his team against Russia, at the Stadium of Toulouse (Haute-Garonne), on June 20, 2016. (BULENT KILIC / AFP)

Initiatives that UEFA intends to generalize as quickly as possible, explains Tiberio Daddi, professor of management at the Santa Anna school in Perugia, charged by the European body with a mission called Life Tackle to spread good practices. “We have thus closely studied the recycling of drinks consumed at the Olympic Stadium in Rome to maximize the participation of supporters. To make them separate the bottle caps as much as possible in different bins, we had to study closely their uses in order to place containers in the most suitable places “, he illustrates. This mission will bear fruit in 2024 for the Euro in Germany.

Does that still seem modest to you? One day, who knows, we will no longer hear Aleksander Ceferin, the boss of UEFA, recognize that football “never did much for the environment”. Or Patrick Gasser, the head of social responsibility for football within the European body, stop being asked in the corridors of the headquarters in Nyon (Switzerland) what football and ecology have to do. “Everything, obviously”, grumbles the person, quoted by the site Sustainability Report.

Perhaps we are wondering, because we hear nothing from the players, yet in the front row. And for good reason, initiatives are rare and still in the process of being structured. “I was already sensitive to this cause, but my experience in a Swedish club confirmed my idea. There, it’s a real social issue, omnipresent”, illustrious Grégoire Amiot, defender passed by Reims, the Dutch club Fortuna Sittard and Falkenbergs, in Sweden. Hence his commitment as an ambassador for the Football Ecologie France association. “We can make things happen on our own scale, not change the world overnight. At the moment, we are working a lot with training centers. The subject speaks to young people.”

The other association of players, We Play Green, is trusted by footballers from northern Europe. An initiative of the Norwegian midfielder of Sampdoria, Morten Thorsby. “The real figureheads of the world football community are the players and supporters, not club bosses, UEFA or Fifa, Thorsby wants to believe. SIf we get them into our fight, football will have no choice but to go in the right direction. “