Today the action of football fans saved the future of European football bringing the European Super League to a halt. They also did their bit for the planet, saving an additional 165,000 tonnes/year of CO₂, equivalent to removing 100,000 cars from the roads.
The European Super League
The European Super League was presented as an elite competition between Europe’s highest profile football clubs. It would have offered these clubs permanent spots in the league to play midweek matches, whilst allowing the involved clubs to also play in their domestic competitions. The benefits were short-lived for the founding clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.
The six English clubs abandoned the league and left the Spanish and Italian clubs stranded within less than 48 hours from the competition’s announcement. Public and government scrutiny coupled with rumours of strong sanctions by the Premier League and UEFA forced their hand, all in the name of protecting the spirit of the sport and English football.
Climate Impact of the proposed ESL
It is fitting that the ESL was abandoned On Earth Day, the annual event to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
The ESL would have likely been in addition to existing UEFA competitions, increasing the travel required for teams and supporters alike. Analysis conducted by climate research firm, Trove Research, finds that the ESL would have created additional carbon emissions of 165,000 tonnes of CO₂. This is equivalent to 380,000 barrels of oil, or the annual CO₂ emissions created by 97,600 domestic vehicles.
International flights for away matches would be responsible for over 86% of emissions. On average, across the three stages of the competition, travel emissions account for about 840 tCO2e per match with the final match bearing the greatest emissions from travel at over 7000 tCO2e.
Climate Impact of major sporting events
Major international sporting events have significant carbon footprints. The total carbon footprint of the 2019 UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham in Madrid was estimated to have been nearly 8,700 tonnes of CO₂, with the largest contributor being the flights of both teams and fans to Madrid. The emissions from the 2018 World Cup in Russia are estimated to have been 2.16 million tonnes of CO₂.
The emissions from the delayed Tokyo Olympics later this year are estimated to be 2.73 mtCO₂, even with 100% renewable energy and 500 Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles. International travel associated with these events remains a major factor in their overall contribution to climate change.
Climate pledges of major European football clubs
The European Super League would have made it more difficult for clubs to meet the climate pledges that they have already made. Juventus have signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Changes Sport for Action Framework, to set standard in line with the Paris Agreement for monitoring emissions and joined the Climate Neutral Now initiative. Through this, they have pledged to offset all their Scope 1 and 2 Emissions. Real Madrid has monitored and certified its carbon footprint and pledged to use this to design measures to offset their emissions, but had no reduction targets in its 2019/20 Sustainability Report (published in January 2021).
While there were few concrete details in Sunday’s ESL announcement, the estimated carbon footprint is based upon the 12 founding members being joined by 2 teams each from Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland, based on clubs that did not formally distance themselves from the ESL and suggested interest in media reporting. The teams from each country were split evenly between the two groups of the proposed competition format.
Average attendance for the ESL matches (50,000) was based on average attendance for the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League (49,300), the most recent season with full fan attendance at stadiums. It was estimated that away fan attendance would be 4,000 based on current away ticket allocations in the UEFA Champions League. Home fans were estimated to travel 20km to each game, based on a 2017 study of English football. The local transport mix used by fans is based on data from the carbon accounting from the 2006 World Cup and transport emission factors were obtained from the UK government, with ‘local public transport’ used by fans assumed to be a 50/50 split of bus and light rail for home fans, and bus and national rail for away fans from the same country.
Away fans for matches in another country were assumed to use the nearest airport to their club, with one airport selected per country. The airports selected were LHR, GLA, AMS, LIS, MAD, MXP and FRA. The carbon footprint of return flights for international travel were based on data from atmosfair.de.
Play-off and knockout stage matches were calculated based on the average emissions estimated for all group stage matches, as the teams qualifying for the knockout stages could not be known in advanced. The emissions for the Final were calculated based on a neutral venue with 20,000 tickets allocated to each team, based on recent allocations for UEFA Champions League finals using the average international away travel emissions data from the group stage.
Guy Turner, CEO of Trove Research said, “the clubs behind the ESL did not give a moment’s thought to the wishes of football fans. They also did not care one jot about their climate pledges. International sporting events are fabulous occasions to bring the world together, but they need to be the exception rather than the norm.”