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Scoring net zero

Scoring net zero

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This weekend, Tottenham Hotspur play Chelsea in a match that will be a first of its kind. But is a ‘net zero’ football match purely a stunt or signs that things are changing for the better?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story, every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, this weekend sees the world’s first ever net zero carbon major football match. 

Is it a stunt, or real step forward?

***

“Sky and Tottenham Hotspur are making the Premier League fixture against Chelsea on September 19 the world’s first net zero carbon major football match.”

Sky Sports Football Show

A few years ago, if you said to any football fan about the concept of ‘net zero goals’, it’d sound like you were talking about a misfiring striker, or a boring nil-nil draw.

Now, in our age of climate emergency, the term has taken on a whole new meaning – and for good reason.

This weekend, Spurs play Chelsea in what will be a game that is a first of its kind.

An ambitious, net zero carbon football match.

If you’ve not heard of the concept of net zero before, let me explain.

It’s essentially the balance between the amount of greenhouse gases produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.

Driving towards a ‘net zero’ future is a concept that has been broadly agreed upon as the best way in tackling climate change, and the UK became the world’s first major economy to set a target of being net zero by 2050. 

Football, like many other industries, has been quite slow on the uptake in recognising its role in reaching net zero. 

As noted by Tim Walters in The Blizzard magazine last year, millions of fans drive long distances to support their team at away matches, we catch planes for 90 minutes of football in European fixtures, eat industrially processed burgers, get hooked on fast fashion and buy one or two polyester kits every year… you get the idea. 

The World Land Trust in 2019 estimated that the 2019 Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham produced nearly 9,000 tonnes of carbon – more than the entire city of Glasgow produces in a day – mostly as a result of the flights taken by English fans to Madrid, where the fixture took place. 

There is clearly a need for football to wake up and change its ways. Why now?

In November, the UK is hosting COP26 – the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where countries come together to reach agreements on how to tackle climate change collectively. This one has been described as ‘the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control.’

So that’s why Sky Sports have partnered with COP26 for this weekend’s match at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

In practical terms, the ‘net zero’ match will encourage fans to use public transport to get to the game rather than drive, they’ve allocated extra cycling storage provisions, they’re going to promote plant based food options inside the stadium, and continue Spurs’ ‘zero landfill’ waste management policy.

These seem all very reasonable and doable things – but will it create any lasting impact? Or, in fact, do anything at all?

“Talk about British football culture, and environmental conscientiousness probably isn’t the first trait that springs to mind. But try telling that to Forest Green Rovers…”

Vice News

One place that has taken drastic steps in recent years is Forest Green Rovers. Owner Dale Vince, a green energy industrialist, took over the club in 2010, and for over a decade now the club has become known for its green initiatives. 

The League Two club was called the ‘greenest team in the world’ by FIFA, and the United Nations have recognised Forest Green Rovers as the world’s first carbon-neutral football club. If you go to their ground, appropriately called The New Lawn, you can only buy plant-based food, they have the world’s first organic football pitch, and their kits are made of recycled plastic and coffee grounds.

This is only small scale, however. Forest Green get about 5% of the fans Tottenham Hotspur get to their matches, so trying to do this at mass scale is going to be much harder.

But Forest Green have proved that football can transition to a net zero future – and while this weekend’s match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea may just be a publicity stunt to help promote COP26, it’s exactly these small steps that need to happen to wake football up to the changes it will need to make to safeguard not just the future of the game, but the future of the planet itself.

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Klong.