How unsustainably sustainable has the World Cup been?

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has delivered on the promise of an exciting tournament with upsets and nail-biting finishes. However, World Cup organizers promised that the soccer tournament in Qatar would be “the first carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup in history.”

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL), the entity that manages the tournament, and the world soccer governing body, FIFA, predicted in a February 2021 report that the carbon emissions of the FIFA World Cup 2022 would be about 3.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The five notable objectives stated in the plan for a sustainable FIFA 2022 world cup start with the following:

· Construction and operation of the World Cup sites to limit environmental impacts while building local

· Offsetting all GHG emissions produced for and during the tournament

· Minimizing air pollution, landfill, and water use

· Advancing low-carbon solutions, promoting waste management

· Access to cleaner technologies

At the time of FIFA world cup was awarded to Qatar, the organizers, i.e., the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), made some calculations that were prepared by the Swiss carbon management firm South Pole, set the total emissions for the World Cup at 3.6 million metric tons. However, the independent researchers marked the figure as an undercount and came up with roughly six million tons, equivalent to a year’s worth of emissions from 750,000 US homes. The researchers further marked the FIFA world-cup event as “the most emissive ever.”

One of the most significant flaws in estimating the emission levels is underestimating the emissions associated with its stadium building. The host nation built seven new stadiums to accommodate the World Cup’s 64 matches, beginning on November 20, 2022, and finals on December 18 2022, which will cause massive CO2 emission levels adding to the already scorching heat waves faced by the nation.

Another flaw in calculating the emission levels disclosed by the Global Carbon Council (GCC) is the number of carbon credits purchased from three renewable energy projects in Turkey and Serbia, fewer than 350,000 tons of CO2 equivalent. The above holds onto the tournament’s claim of being carbon-neutral.

Another major flaw is the use of transport during the FIFA world cup. Flying by air is hugely carbon intensive, thus making the fan and other flights the largest source of emissions during sporting events.

Water is another concerning factor for the desert nation due to the scarce water supply to the country. Every pitch where the match is played requires around 10,000 litres (2,641 gallons) of desalinated water daily. The above is specifically significant since most of Qatar’s freshwater comes from desalination plants produced by an energy-intensive process involving massive fossil fuel usage.

Additionally, the plants release a toxic salty, hot brine which is highly toxic to marine life in our oceans.

With nearly 60% of waste generated calculated to be recycled and the remaining 40% turned into energy, burning waste for energy release generates massive GHG emissions, making waste another flaw in the overall climate sustainability claims.

Having discussed the potential flaws in the overall sustainable strategy of the host nation as pointed out by critics globally, the desert nation is putting up its best foot forward and attempting massively to be eco-friendly and adopt sustainable measures at every possible level.

Among many options to reduce carbon emissions are the need to adopt direct air capture, an expensive new technology that injects greenhouse gases underground. Lastly, a genuinely green World Cup would mean that individual footballers and other sports leaders speak and discuss climate action, thus, leading by example and implementing it in their lives.

With all of the above, it is a daunting task to ensure a sustainable FIFA world cup 2026, when carbon emissions will rise at unprecedented levels since the tournament will expand massively. From 32 nations playing, the tournament will include 48 teams and take place across an entire continent.

We all could hope things soon start to look different if FIFA sets the pace for climate action. “Football is a beautiful game; it is about fair play, so FIFA must lead by example, showcase a fair play by adopting climate sustainability, and that they want the beautiful game not to have an ugly underbelly.

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