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Bollocks! The Green 2010 FIFA World Cup Is Half Empty

| Saturday April 10th, 2010 | 6 Comments

The World Cup is the planet’s largest sporting event, more popular than the Olympics and the Superbowl…. combined.  It’s a celebration of the world’s favorite game and an opportunity for people to express their national pride.  But as we lurch towards a more globalized sense of community, expressing the collective direction of our species is becoming as important as celebrating nationalism.  Or at least should be.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup will have the greatest carbon footprint of any sporting event “committed” to climate neutrality. “Committed” would be in quotations because the organizers don’t really say what they are actually doing, nor do they even identify who is really responsible for implementing sustainability measures.

The carbon footprint of the 2010 World Cup is estimated at 2.75 million tons, a nine fold increase from the last World Cup held in Germany, and twice as high as the Beijing Olympics.  Coal generated electricity and air travel between cities is largely responsible for the skyrocket in carbon emissions. International travel to the southern tip of the African continent is more than 65% of the carbon footprint, followed by intercity travel and energy use in accommodation at 17% and 13%, respectively.  According to UNEP, offsetting the emissions produced domestically and by international travel would cost an estimated $13 to $24 million, and would be funded by large donors who are as of yet unsecured.  And with millions of fans and an estimated 480,000 tourists, water consumption and waste production will have a heavy impact on local environmental resources.

FIFA’s mission statement for the 2010 World Cup includes three key messages: “Develop the Game,” “Touch the World,” and “Build a Better Future.”  Yet there’s nothing on the FIFA World Cup landing page about sustainability. Instead, The Green Goal Programme is buried under the “Organisation” tab—you might find it if you are really looking for it.

Alternatively, a google search might lead a googler to the UNEP Climate Neutral Network site that assures the viewer that “South Africa is committed to integrating environmental principles into the planning and organization of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.” But you won’t find a clear game plan there either, just a lot of hype and ambiguous strategy.  You can titillate yourself with phrases as specific as “South Africa’s electricity utility, Eskom, is considering using renewable energy to supply some of the needs of the 2010 Soccer World Cup” and host cities are “encouraged to allocate adequate budget to separating waste.” But don’t worry, you can be assured that, Grace Stead, the point person for helping venues become more green, is “trying to get the job done.”  Seriously?

Evidently the FIFA Local Organizing Committee is charged with implementing sustainability, and has set up an Environmental Forum to “plan, coordinate and monitor” Greening 2010 activities related to “stadia, fan parks, training grounds, accommodation facilities and the networks and amenities that service and connect them.”  But there is little information on what that actually entails.

It appears that sustainability is a voluntary effort on behalf of individual venues, with little more than nominal support from FIFA, without common benchmarks or goals.  This is no more evident than on the sparsely populated Greening 2010 page, where you can click on each individual city to see what measures it is (or isn’t) taking to be more sustainable in several subcategories, although most of the text is identical for each venue.  Nowhere will you find specific targets, timelines, or actual measurable commitments towards any of the principles of sustainability.

Undoubtedly, there are some major hurdles to greening the World Cup.  The first is very typical of sustainability efforts– large up front investments that pay off over time.  The problem is that many of the stadiums are built in smaller towns, and unlike stadiums located in major population centers, more rurally situated venues will not likely see much use after the World Cup; the finances probably just don’t pencil out for them.  Which is why greening this type of sporting event must be spearheaded and supported by a governing body, rather than placing the burden on each host city.

Another hurdle is addressing the challenges and resources unique to each of the ten venues in nine cities.  There is no one size fits all implementation plan that will work for every stadium in every town. This is an organizational challenge that can only be conquered with the cooperation of various levels of government, business, and civil society.  A cohesive strategy to reach commonly embraced sustainability goals for the World Cup would entail:

  1. FIFA oversight and support
  2. Measurable targets by which venues were held accountable
  3. FIFA and venue partnerships with corporate sponsors, NGO’s, and local governments
  4. Sufficient planning period to ensure ample time, capital, and human resources

From what I can see, none of the above criteria were met.

Nonetheless, some host cities and sponsors are taking action.  Durban is offsetting some of its local carbon emissions by purchasing energy from hydraulic turbines and landfill biogas. Some cities are planting trees and creating more parks to attract pedestrian transit and “promote biodiversity.” Several stadiums have reportedly incorporated rain water capture, increased energy efficiency, and natural ventilation.  And large corporate sponsors will surely be touting their own sustainability efforts.  For example, Nike will debut their 100% recycled PET national team jerseys made from plastic bottles, and Coca Cola will tour South Africa bringing safe drinking water to schools through its “Water For Schools” program.

While FIFA pays lip service to the importance of sustainability, it did not address it early enough in the planning process for there to be a cohesive overarching strategy that could be distilled down into realistic implementation plans for each of the venues.  The South African government didn’t even request carbon offsets far enough in advance, which are typically an ad hoc, last minute, last resort to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (they submitted their request in November–about two to three years too late according to Nicci Diedrichs, head of Durban’s green programs).

I know I’m coming off a bit harsh.  I have been waiting for decades for my favorite game to embrace sustainability.  I think this is a great opportunity for the most important global sporting event (sorry Olympics fans) to be held in Africa.  And it’s an important step that there is a somewhat open discussion of the environmental impact of the World Cup on carbon emissions, waste production, pollution, and water consumption.  But talking about the issues without a concrete plan to address them is not greening a World Cup.

While host cities have taken initiatives to reduce local environmental impacts, overall The Green Goal Programme is not being administered or implemented professionally from a sustainability, marketing, or public relations standpoint.  The effort seems fragmented, disorganized, unmeasurable, and ineffective.  FIFA, UNEP, and the South African government are likely scrambling to implement sustainability and are perhaps waiting until the final hour to publicize their accomplishments.  Hopefully that’s the case, because the global community is presented with a truly tremendous opportunity here.  What other event combines a television audience of 40 billion people, billions of corporate dollars shoveled into sponsorships and advertising, and is held in a country on a continent that needs sustainable development more desperately than almost anywhere else in the world?

Question:

Which organization do you think should take the primary responsibility for making the World Cup more sustainable?  Should it be FIFA, the host country, UNEP, a non-profit, or the individual venues?


▼▼▼      6 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://davidcoethica.wordpress.com/ David Connor

    It's FIFA's party and they should take responsibility! They like many sporting bodies are always their to accept the praise when such events are successful but are painfully absent when suggestions of taking wider responsibilities seriously.

    FIFA should have the balls (pardon the pun) to take responsibility for not only each of it's events but actively pushing individual clubs and all football connected bodies do much much more to better manage their environmental impacts.

    Sport, and football in particular thinks that by offering minimal and template community activities they have done enough. I made this point about sport's CSR blinkers on 3BL TV last week, and a few similar posts on my own blog.

  • http://twitter.com/smolove carly smo

    I agree. I have to think that it's FIFA's responsibility since no other entity really has decisive authority over World Cup operations. Which is why this case study is so interesting– there is more information on the UNEP Climate Neutral site and the Eskom Greening 2010 site than there is on FIFA's. Part of the problem, however, is the split incentives between long term economic benefits of a world cup for the host country vs. the high up front costs of sustainability investment. It wouldn't make sense for the financing to be the sole responsibility of FIFA when a large part of sustainability is investing in infrastructure– something the host country will benefit from over the long term. This is the tricky part– cooperation among the various stakeholders and organizations.

  • http://www.greenedge.co.za Hugh Tyrrell

    Your sharp post appreciated. As a Cape Town resident however I want to point out our beautiful city's work which is here: http://www.capetown.gov.za/en/GreenGoal/Pages/d

    It's a fairly good attempt to set targets and score good green points and the stadium itself has many green building attributes. Lots of South Africans are disturbed at the often heavy-handed way FIFA is managing the process from their side. And yes, most of the tab has to be picked up by the host country/city including greening.

  • nickon

    yes green the most important color of life and i think SA likely to represent it

    _______________________
    http://www.travelandmore.co.uk/landingpages/joh

  • Emma_hine

    It should be FIFA who have to take the most responsibility, but all the tourists and people around the world need to help in making their journeys and visits more carbon-neutral. South Africa also needs to develop its infrastructure so this can happen. You can't really point the finger at one particular organization/country when so many are involved, but since it's FIFA's world cup they should do the most.

  • Laura Waters

    I was present at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and although I was not working directly on sustainability I was viewing many of the activities through that lens. The problem lies in many places: South Africa has very limited recycling or other waste management infrastructure and relies on mostly coal for power generation. I believe that FIFA could have done more, however, to support sustainability efforts. FIFA is able to hold a heavy hand over countries to meet goals before the World Cup begins (related to stadia and fan fests and other infrastructure needed to host the games) and I believe that they should leverage this power to encourage and promote proper waste management and other sustainability goals. If FIFA were able to help the countries that they work with in this way, their legacy would be much “greener.”