How does the World Cup affect the environment?
Author: Nash Riggins
Published: Tuesday, 17 June 2014
FIFA and the Brazilian government have come under heavy fire for lavish spending on this year’s staging of the World Cup. Yet for all the tournament’s flaws, Rio 2014 very well may go on to set new global standards on sustainability.
The FIFA World Cup is the single largest sporting competition on the globe. Every four years, almost a billion people from all over the world tune in to cheer on their country in an all-too rare show of international cooperation and unity. Yet those fans demand a spectacle – and spectacles don’t come cheap. In 2010, South Africa was selected to host the first-ever World Cup to take place on African soil. It cost around £3bn to stage. Yet equally dear was the environmental cost of the tournament. In the end, the 2010 event turned out to have the single largest environmental impact of any sporting event in history, churning out an estimated 2.75m tonnes of carbon emissions. The final match alone generated eight times more greenhouse gasses than the entirety of Germany’s 2006 tournament – and that’s not even counting long-haul international travel.
Not only did South Africa lose about 90% of its financial investment, but attempts to mitigate the environmental impact of its astoundingly large tournament amounted to little. So, with that in mind, a question begs the answer: what sort of ecological ramifications can we expect to see from Rio 2014?
Lessons Learnt?Although Brazil is still classed as a developing economy, it’s worth pointing out the nation does have more in the way of infrastructure than South Africa; therefore, greenhouse emissions at this year’s equally grandiose World Cup are going to be inherently lower than that of 2010. Emissions from intra-city transportation, accommodation, and stadia electricity usage are already lower, as Brazil has a very clean electricity grid that’s composed largely of hydropower, and makes great use of lower carbon liquid fuels.
Accordingly, FIFA reckons the carbon footprint for Rio 2014 is expected to generate just over 2.7m tonnes of CO2 emissions – inclusive of preparation, staging and clean-up. The majority of emissions (almost 80%) will stem from international and inner-city transportation. Accommodation, temporary facility construction and intra-city transportation are all intermediate contributors, and account for around 100,000 tonnes of emissions each. Those are not tiny figures. Yet for all the appalling faults in FIFA’s manipulative and profit-driven management style, it’s worth pointing out the global body has at least taken on board one or two lessons in carbon management.
In fact, Rio 2014 is actually the first FIFA World Cup in history to possess its own comprehensive sustainability strategy. For starters, officials have successfully implemented a set of new waste regulations throughout the course of the tournament that will better control the handling and destination of waste. Stadium managers are being encouraged to strictly enforce new recycling measures that are meant to make disposing of recyclables easier for fans and more efficient for local treatment facilities. More important, however, are the measures organisers have implemented on Brazil’s new feats of architecture.
Revolutionary DesignThere has certainly been a flurry of justifiable criticism regarding the construction of Brazil’s lavish new football stadiums. It’s nigh impossible to defend the costly buildings when public spending on health and education remain criminally low in so many areas of the country. Yet if nothing else, builders have incorporated at least one sustainable feature on the nation’s sporting venues that just might serve to benefit its people in the long run: free energy.
With the help of Yingli Solar, one of the globe’s biggest renewables firms, builders have installed enough solar panels on stadiums like Arena Pernambuco and the world famous Estádio do Maracanã to power entire matches – in fact, this year’s final match will be the first World Cup game in history to be powered on 100% green energy. Afterwards, it’s hoped the combined generating power of the two stadiums will rake in more than 1MW per annum for the next 25 years. Not only will that help to marginalise this World Cup’s environmental impact upon the environment, but it’s bound to provide a much-needed boost to Brazil’s national grid for years to come.
A win for FIFA?FIFA is far from perfect. The global body continues to profit mercilessly from the staging of international games that are meant to unite peoples rather than oppress them – and in that capacity, football officials must be held accountable. Reform is a must. Yet if nothing else, at least organisers have finally started taking into consideration the full environmental impact of these major spectacles.
Sustainability is paramount – and should never be allowed to stray far from the heart of such sporting events. With any luck, the viability measures being incorporated in the staging of Rio 2014 will go on to set an international precedent.