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Green Vows in Jeopardy: The World Cup Bid Process Sparks Concerns, Advocating for Overdue Reforms

Wednesday, 01 November 2023 21:53 Sport

"Green Goals Derailed: Fifa's World Cup Bids Raise Environmental Concerns and Call for Reform

The handling of the 2030 and 2034 World Cup tournaments by Fifa has come under intense scrutiny, casting shadows over the organization's environmental commitments. The decision to host the 2030 men's World Cup across six countries and relax the minimum stadium requirements for the 2034 tournament has ignited criticism, particularly with implications for a potentially successful bid from Saudi Arabia. This move, seemingly undermining environmental considerations, prompts a reevaluation of Fifa's dedication to reducing its carbon footprint.

With approximately 70% of football's carbon footprint attributed to fan travel, the irony of Fifa's plan to cut emissions while hosting a tournament across three continents is glaring. Moreover, the encouragement of increased stadium construction in Saudi Arabia, despite relaxing existing stadium requirements, raises questions about the true commitment to the planet.

The challenges of environmental sustainability in mega-events like the World Cup are undeniable. The influx of people and the construction of new infrastructure contribute significantly to carbon emissions and impact local ecosystems. The ongoing cycle poses potential threats to future tournaments, exemplified by concerns over extreme weather conditions affecting the playability of the 2026 tournament in North America.

Football For Future (FFF) advocates for a comprehensive review of Fifa's World Cup bidding process as a crucial step towards achieving a more environmentally sustainable tournament. The current process is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies, as evidenced by the high carbon footprint of the successful USA, Mexico, and Canada bid for 2026. To truly break the cycle and embrace a greener approach, Fifa must address these issues and prioritize sustainability in its decision-making process, ensuring a more responsible and eco-friendly future for the World Cup."

"Challenges on the Green Pitch: Fifa's Climate Commitments Face Scrutiny

Despite Fifa's acknowledgment of environmental concerns and efforts to assess bids based on sustainability criteria, questions linger over the sincerity of its commitment to a greener future for the World Cup. The 2026 tournament's staggering 85% emissions from travel did not deter Fifa from deeming its travel plans low risk, citing international accessibility and air connectivity.

While progress is evident, with the requirement for sustainable building certification in all stadiums for the 2030 and 2034 tournaments, there's still room for improvement. The discrepancy arises when Fifa, having signed up to the United Nations Sport for Climate Action Framework (Unscaf), merely 'asks' successful bids to 'engage in the process of becoming a signatory,' rather than making it mandatory. Similarly, host nations are only encouraged to provide low-carbon transport infrastructure, with practical challenges evident in the Qatar World Cup's unique circumstances not replicable on the scale of 2030.

As Football Australia explores a potential 2034 joint bid, the call for Fifa to overhaul its bidding process gains resonance. True environmental prioritization requires comprehensive considerations in all risk factors, ensuring a genuine commitment to climate concerns from potential hosts. By revising its approach, Fifa has the opportunity to showcase football as a leader in environmentally sustainable practices, contributing to the global shift towards net zero and the crucial goal of limiting the Earth's temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In this climate challenge, football's potential to inspire positive change remains boundless."

Barney Weston is co-director of Football For Future, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering a more environmentally sustainable culture in football.

"In conclusion, Fifa's journey towards environmental sustainability in the World Cup bid process has seen both progress and lingering challenges. While there are positive steps, such as the requirement for sustainable building certification in stadiums, questions persist over the depth of Fifa's commitment. The 2026 tournament's high travel-related emissions, deemed low risk, highlight the need for a more rigorous evaluation of climate impact.

The discrepancy between Fifa's commitment to the United Nations Sport for Climate Action Framework and the mere 'ask' for successful bids to engage raises concerns about the organization's approach. The encouragement of low-carbon transport infrastructure, while practical in some contexts, requires a more nuanced and scalable solution for future tournaments.

As discussions unfold around potential 2034 joint bids, the spotlight on Fifa intensifies. The call for a comprehensive review of the bidding process gains urgency, emphasizing the necessity of integrating carbon and environmental sustainability into all risk factors. Should Fifa rise to this challenge, football has the potential to pioneer a tournament that not only leads by example but also contributes significantly to the global push for net zero, aiming to keep the Earth's temperature rise below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. In the face of the immense climate challenge, the boundless power of football remains a beacon of hope for positive change."

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