Football’s popularity and widespread appeal have long been an effective way to broadcast different ideas to a wide audience. Given the sport’s popularity in the European South, it could prove to be a useful tool in spreading the Commission’s message on reducing individual emissions.

“We are all in the first team. We can all make a difference,” tweeted Ursula von der Leyen as she released the sustainability advertisement on Monday (18 October), calling on the world to commit to saving the planet ahead of COP26.

“To keep enjoying our favourite game, we need to win the fight against the climate crisis as a team. Let’s now kick our bad habits – for the planet and our future,” tweeted European Green Deal Chief Frans Timmermans.

The EU Executive had partnered up with two notable football players, Italian world-cup winner Gianluigi Buffon and Portuguese Euro-cup runner-up Luís Figo, and UEFA to deliver a clip that showed Buffon use a football to turn off the lights to save energy in his home.

The Commission’s turn towards football to advertise sustainable behaviour received much ridicule and was labelled greenwashing. While the underlying message is sound, it was criticised for shifting the burden onto individuals.

But others argue that the mass popularity of the game should be used to encourage more sustainable daily habits.

“It’s not a secret that football is a massive tool, and you can reach a lot of people,” Antonia Hagemann, CEO of European football fan organisation SD Europe, told EURACTIV.

But the spot is not the first time the Commission and UEFA have cooperated, having first started their collaboration in 2007.

“This is about reaching different audiences,” Tim McPhie, commission spokesperson, told journalists on Monday (18 October). “It’s always important that we keep reaching out to new people,” he added.

“And you know, perhaps not everybody yet in Europe understands the importance of tackling climate change or understands the individual role that they can play,” he explained.

The cost issue

Many observers voiced their scepticism about the cost of the video that featured famous football idols and will be shown in 57 countries, prompting fears that the Commission was too generous with its money.

“[The clip] cost just over 700,000 euros to produce, which comes out of the corporate communications budget of the Commission,” explained McPhie.

“UEFA is providing the distribution of this clip, free of charge,” he added when asked as to the size of the media buy that would accompany the production costs of the clip.

“This particular clip will run through the duration of this season, “ said McPhie, adding that the clip would also be played at “the UEFA Champions League matches.”

Yet, there may be a non-monetary cost associated with the clip: it may cost the Commission some credibility as it continues to benefit from UEFA’s generosity.

“If UEFA’s commitment to raising awareness of the climate emergency using football’s global reach is sincere, it is difficult to see how this can be reconciled with sponsorship from one of the biggest CO2 emitters in history,” commented InfluenceMap, a climate NGO.

“If every trick counts, then UEFA should probably review its decision to partner with Gazprom.”

[Edited by Alice Taylor]