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October 4, 2023


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Fact-check: How green is the football World Cup?

3 min read

The 2022 FIFA World Cup, which began in Qatar on Sunday, has drawn the attention of human rights and environmental groups globally. A claim by the host country is that the event is the first-ever carbon-neutral World Cup. But is it? Mint examines the promise:

Why is the Qatar world cup under scrutiny?

Concerns began to surface much earlier, when Fifa selected Qatar as the 2022 host 12 years ago. Qatar has received a lot of bad press since, ranging from allegations of bribery for hosting the tournament, to human rights violations of migrant workers brought in to help with preparations, and the country’s record on gay rights. Another point of contention is the claim that the event will be carbon-neutral, meaning it will be able to offset all the carbon that has been emitted as a result of it. Many environmental groups have slammed this claim, accusing the organizers of “greenwashing”.

How will Qatar make the event sustainable?

Qatar’s approach to sustainability —to cut emissions as much as possible and then buy carbon credits to make up the difference—has received much attention as the country has the highest per capita carbon emissions. With the help of the Swiss carbon management firm South Pole, the tournament’s organizers released a greenhouse gas accounting report for the event last year, which indicated that 3.6 million tonnes of carbon emissions will be released during the tournament’s preparation and duration. This is higher than the 2.17 million tonnes estimated for Russia in 2018 and 2.72 million tonnes for 2014 Brazil.

Pitch imperfect

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Pitch imperfect

Which of Qatar’s emissions claims are overstated?

Carbon Market Watch, an independent research group, found that building new stadiums has generated carbon footprints eight times Fifa’s estimate. Greenly, another organization, estimates the event’s total carbon emissions at 6 million tonnes. Greenly’s chief Alexis Normand told Bloomberg that the 2022 WC will be “the most emissive ever”.

Were previous world cups “greenwashed”?

In a report, climate action campaigner Greenpeace called Fifa’s claims of a carbon-neutral world cup as likely greenwashing. But this isn’t the first time that the governing body is accused of greenwashing. During the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, attendees travelling to the country were encouraged to offset their carbon footprints through the UN-sponsored scheme called Climate Neutral Now. Climate experts have described the initiative as greenwashing as they found several basic flaws in the scheme.

Are the green efforts of organizers in vain?

Bloomberg reported that Qatar plans to purchase 1.8 million carbon offsets from the Global Carbon Council to make up for the emissions. The country has also engaged in renewable projects and pledged to track emissions from flights carrying fans to and from the event. One stadium will be dismantled after use. Organizers of a large-scale event having to claim—and effect—green practices should be lauded. The attention that this tournament has got for its effects on the environment should be a wake-up call for Fifa.



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