Qatar World Cup 2022 was a tournament riddled with controversy but one with a great goal. Prior to it, Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, stated in a press conference that “FIFA is playing its part, with our aim to make the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 carbon neutral”. The construction of 7 stadiums, as well as the BBC’s report of millions of fans attending the event, leads many to doubt this.
Qatar aimed to meet their carbon neutral plan chiefly with carbon offsets. Carbon offsetting refers to organisations investing in carbon credits which fund processes that reduce greenhouse gas emission elsewhere. In essence, the organisation themselves are vicariously ‘allowed’ to pollute. According to The Economist, FIFA estimated that the World Cup would generate 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. This figure is considerably more than Iceland’s counterpart figure for 2020. To that end, the carbon emissions from the World Cup 2022 are more than any recent sporting event. So exactly how can the carbon offset plan justify this?
According to Le Monde, Gilles Dufresne, a member of the NGO Carbon Market Wash, said that “these are renewable energy projects that are generally excluded from the carbon market system. Buying these credits has no beneficial effect on the climate, since they do not change the viability of the project that generates them”. Furthermore, FIFA’s carbon neutral goal is set to be fulfilled over a timespan of 60 years, so there will be no immediately noticeable impacts. Thus, some assert that FIFA were merely inclined to appear as an environmentally-friendly, progressive, and ethical organisation: such people would allege that because the carbon offset plan will not have a significant impact in the near future, FIFA has not actually done much to attempt to solve the problem.
Before the World Cup took place, The Eco Experts created an estimate of all the sources of CO2 emissions at the tournament. They predicted that over 2 million tonnes of CO2 would be emitted during the construction of the 7 new stadiums. That is well over 50% of the actual mass of emissions. In FIFA’s report on the distribution of emission sources during the World Cup, it claimed that permanent venue construction only contributed to 18% of the CO2 emissions. Arguably, this figure ought to be taken with a pinch of salt – not least considering that FIFA has previously distorted statistics. For it was even during this event that they claimed the attendance rates were far higher than they were. However, if this figure is indeed accurate, then, from an environmental aspect, the construction of these stadiums was perhaps more environmentally-friendly than many thought.
It was claimed that the stadiums would be constructed with sustainable practices. For example, Stadium 974, the inaugural temporary World Cup stadium, was constructed with 974 shipping containers. The stadium was designed to be taken apart and reused after the World Cup. Qatar called the stadium “its beacon of sustainability”. As well as creating Stadium 974, Qatar World Cup organisers pledged to donate 170,000 seats from other stadiums to less developed countries. However, according to the BBC, Carbon Market Watch stated that “no concrete plans could be found”8 for this promise.
Another important problem with the stadiums was that all but one were air conditioned. In a desert where temperatures get relatively very high, the amount of energy needed to air condition stadiums is huge. NBC have claimed that several spectators have “even complained of being too cold”. With some games kicking off as late as 22:00 to avoid the desert heat of the day, lighting was then another factor that greatly increased the CO2 emissions.
In spite of this, FIFA claim that travel led to over half of the CO2 emissions. CNBC stated that the estimated number of people visiting Qatar during the World Cup would be 1.2 million. Not only did the majority of these people fly in from other countries, which causes significant CO2 emissions, but Qatar is also not large enough to accommodate them all. As a result, many stay in neighbouring countries, in particular the UAE (which is a one hour flight away), and travel to and from Qatar every day. The number of incoming (and thus outgoing) flights also increased, to take in more such tourists. This transpired after FIFA released their climate pledge. According to NBC News, “representatives for FIFA, King Hamad Airport, and Qatar Airways did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the carbon footprint that the increased number of flights were expected to produce during the tournament”9. Consequently, the numbers that FIFA released on the carbon impact report are highly likely to be inaccurate, and, similarly, the tournament is likely not even remotely carbon neutral.
It is almost impossible for such a large construction plan and popular sporting tournament to have no (or a positive) net impact on the environment. However, it is evident that much more could have been done. Not to mention improving transparency. Whilst the Qatar World Cup 2022 was clearly unsustainable, the initiative set out by FIFA to make it carbon neutral will hopefully be carried on to future large sporting events.