Greenwashing in sport: the FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the climate fairy tale

Status: 06/21/2022 8:45 p.m.

The World Cup will be climate-neutral, host Qatar has said. We can doubt it, keyword: construction of stadiums, including the use of air conditioning. And now possibly shuttles.

A few days ago, Gianni Infantino traveled to Qatar, where the FIFA President attended two 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Infantino, 52, also quickly recorded a video. It’s going to be a great show, said Infantino, which of course means the finals in the winter and anyway “the best World Cup ever.”

It was a performance like Infantino likes. The World Cup in Qatar is important to him and he often praises the emirate. Once he encouraged people at an event to shout “Qatar, Qatar”, it was a bizarre performance. Infantino, on the other hand, rarely criticizes the host country. There is so much to criticize.

There was a message about the World Cup in Qatar these days, it almost leaked. They have problems with completing accommodation there. Things could get tough in the emirate.

If all else fails, there are always shuttle flights

According to Omar al-Jaber of Supreme Committee (SC), which organizes the World Cup, more than 100,000 rooms are available for overnight stays. The Sports Information Service (SID) reported it a few days ago. If that’s not enough, consider tent camps. “We should also allow people to experience the desert in a Bedouin-style tent.”

Alternatively, overseas fans could also be accommodated in other Gulf states and transported to Qatar-booked matches on up to 160 daily shuttle flights. It’s easy to calculate: the World Cup final in Qatar will last 28 days, with only six days without a match, which represents up to 3,520 flights.

This is an idea that does not fit in at all with the ambitious objectives of the organizer.

A sustainable development strategy – and then shuttles?

In Qatar and FIFA, we like to say that this World Cup will be climate neutral. We speak of climate neutrality when the emission of greenhouse gases and the capacity of the ecosystem to absorb them are in balance.

Some time ago, the emirate presented a so-called sustainability strategy for the World Cup final. It’s also about lower emissions, energy efficient stadiums. They praise the tournament as one of the shortest paths. Of course, Qatar said, the broadcasts that “are inevitable in the preparation and organization of the tournament” would be compensated.

“Has the character of a greenwashing”

Climate neutrality, says Christian Behrens of the German environmental aid of the sports fair, of course sounds great. But the term doesn’t always deliver what it promises – and its use worries him, especially when it comes to the World Cup in Qatar. Behrens says: “In Qatar they aim very strongly for the concept of climate neutrality – and at the same time everyone knows that something is being created there that is not environmentally sustainable. It looks like greenwashing.”

So-called climate offsetting, as Qatar will use it, Behrens says, is only an appropriate means where emissions are truly unavoidable. Behrens agrees that shuttle flights across the Gulf states, just to ferry football fans back and forth to Qatar, are not among the unavoidable emissions.

Climate neutrality at the World Cup – they make it too easy for themselves

At the request of the sports broadcast, the Supreme Committee confirmed the SID report and the considerations set out therein. The response letter is long and speaks volumes about Qatar’s understanding of a climate-neutral World Cup. A spokesperson said he couldn’t say much about the shuttle flights. They are an initiative of Qatar Airways. No word on the airline being a key World Cup partner.

They facilitate the task of the Supreme Committee. Too easy, says Christian Behrens. Of course, Qatar cannot claim that the emissions from these shuttles have nothing to do with the World Cup. “As an organizer, Qatar has a duty”says Behrens.

The SC did not respond to a request from the sports fair as to how and by whom emissions caused by shuttle flights should be offset.

What trees and shrubs say about climate neutrality

Instead, the Supreme Committee says they are indeed “on track to deliver a carbon-neutral World Cup.” They cite what they call the “tree nursery” as an example. 679,000 shrubs and 16,000 trees were planted, mostly native species that have no problem with Qatar’s climate. They are irrigated with“recycled water”.

Sounds great, but it’s not that simple, they say to German environmental aid. Behrens talks about the seawater desalination plants that are used in Qatar to obtain water. According to Behrens, recycling seawater is “a very energy-intensive process, and that in a country where nearly 100% of the energy supply comes from fossil sources.”

The bushes and trees are representative of something that can also be seen in other areas related to the supposedly climate-neutral World Cup: what sounds good doesn’t always have to be good.

World Cup in Qatar a “devastating decision”

An example: Stadium 974. It consists, hence its name, of 974 old shipping containers. After the tournament, the stadium can be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere. Basically, that’s not a bad idea, says Christian Behrens of German environmental aid. However, emissions were already caused by the construction and further transport would not improve the ecological balance of the stadium.

And then there will be things at the World Cup that never sounded good. About air conditioning in stadiums. With the exception of one stadium, all used in the final round are artificially cooled. These are also emissions that could have been avoided. You just shouldn’t have made Qatar the host.

“From an ecological point of view”says Behrens, “Awarding the World Cup to Qatar was a devastating decision.”


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