“Some football matches can easily generate an environmental impact comparable to that of an average city for the same three hours,” according to the report.

While awareness of environmental issues is increasing in all sectors, “the sports sector has until recently been lagging behind in proactively managing its environmental impacts,” according to the study’s authors. Although environmental protection is “increasingly high on the football agenda” these days, the role of football managers in clubs and stadiums in the green transition of the world’s most popular sport remains under-researched.

Life Tackle – an international project aimed at improving environmental awareness and green management in the world of football – has based its report on an online survey carried out at the end of 2019 of 123 football club managers and stadium managers across Europe.

The result: football managers have “demonstrated their commitment to environmental sustainability” due to “ethical” reasons, i.e. a genuine desire to preserve the environment and natural resources, according to the report. However, there is still much to be done in terms of concrete measures.

A ‘win-win opportunity’

When asked about their motivations for implementing environmental management practices in their clubs, 70% of managers agreed with the importance of protecting the environment. Reducing costs through lower energy consumption or improving the club’s reputation were among the other important factors cited.

For football managers, “applying green practices offers a win-win opportunity for both the environment and their organisation” since investments would turn out to save money in the long run, according to the report.

Overly selective initiatives

However, while a broad range of possible measures can be taken to initiate a green transition in sports, some are proving much less popular than others. The majority of managers surveyed say they are already taking initiatives such as reducing waste, plastic consumption, energy and water consumption in their clubs and stadiums.

Yet monitoring and addressing the more passive and indirect impacts of football like greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the impact of spectator travel, are much harder – and according to the report’s authors, “certain technical knowledge is required to interpret these impacts”. To remedy the situation, the report recommends clubs “consult scientific and research communities”.

Not enough environmental governance

In terms of internal environmental governance, too, the report identified areas needing further attention. While nearly half of the respondents say they regularly inform senior managers in their clubs about environmental issues, only 34% say they employ staff to manage these issues. Training staff on environmental issues through dedicated training and seminars was also lacking, the report added.

The report also deplored a lack of communication as 70% of those surveyed said they rarely or never communicate their green initiatives to the general public. Although another Life Tackle study published last year showed that a large majority of fans wanted to be better informed about their clubs’ green commitments, this trend highlights a “discrepancy between what fans expect and what football clubs and stadiums are doing” according to the report.

There is a role for everyone

Given that fans also have a role to play in the green transition of football, the report also highlighted some ways to raise awareness among fans. According to 58% of the football managers surveyed, the best option for encouraging fans to adopt a more eco-friendly behaviour would be to offer them a reward, for example through cheaper tickets.

Finally, the managers surveyed also overwhelmingly agreed that all actors in the football world have a role to play in promoting a more eco-friendly sport. Almost 70% of them support the idea that football players should use their popularity to encourage fans to behave in a more environmentally friendly way. And 66% think that major football event organisers, such as UEFA and FIFA, should use their media channels to talk more about the environment.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]