“Football can be a formidable vector of popular ecology and solidarity,” according to a consultation paper published on Friday (5 March) by the group Football Ecologie France, which supports clubs in pursuing green initiatives.

Faced with the climate emergency, the association is calling for an “eco-support movement” – a “surge of collective commitment from each and every one of us at his or her own level […] so that the number one sport can reinvent itself and move towards environmental responsibility”.

There’s no doubt football’s economic and social weight are significant. France’s 15,000 amateur clubs count 2.2 million members and generate a turnover of no less than €7 billion, according to Football Ecologie France.

And the sport’s environmental impact is no less significant. The 2018 World Cup generated an estimated 2.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the group said in a press release, while a Ligue 1 match generates an average of 10 tonnes of rubbish.

This has led the beautiful game to gain a dirty reputation. In a study last summer 62% of fans asked by the group said football is not an environmentally friendly sport. This could change if “the whole of football were to make a concrete commitment to the ecological transition,” the group said.

Should this happen, the world’s most popular sport could contribute to improving air quality, preserving nature and reducing energy bills. The majority of respondents to the survey said this was the responsibility of both fans and the clubs, with 74% saying they would like their local club to implement environmental projects.

Fans said the sport should focus on three sustainability priorities: Reducing waste, raising awareness and reducing carbon emissions from travel.

Focusing on these areas, football holds great potential to drive societal change. Football “has the means to become a major player in the ecological transition thanks to its unifying power and its reputation”, said Football Ecologie France.

“Football has every interest in reinventing itself, for itself and society,” the group added. After all, “it can only be played if the planet is viable and society is stable.”

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]