“Changing the habits of football consumers would be a real victory… / International / Ecology / SOFOOT.com

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At the beginning of May, the British NGO Sport Positive announced the first ranking of the greenest clubs in the French Ligue 1. Founding president Claire Poole explains to us how this Olympique Lyonnais-dominated championship works and why the world of football can do a lot for the environment.

What is the date before the creation of these Sports Positive Leagues for Ligue 1 whose first classification you have just revealed?
I’ve already been working on climate change and sports for eight or nine years. This made me very aware of the actions of some clubs in favor of sustainable development. And in the exchanges I could make on these questions, I realized that I always encountered the same examples of Premier League, Bundesliga or Ligue 1 clubs taking real action. I wanted to have a more complete, global view of the entire football ecosystem. It is this reflection that led to the gradual launch of the first Sport Positive Leagues rankings for the English Premier League in 2021. Our philosophy is to share information about what clubs are doing, informing organisations, while also encouraging less developed clubs to copy what’s going on. The competitive spirit inherent in sport can help in this area of ​​sustainability efforts.

How were you greeted by the football world at first?
(Laughs.) The goal is to share information easily: Have we done the research, how do we present it effectively? Few would read a 40-page report, but it’s one that fans read every weekend. He seems to be a good mechanic for our business, creating friendly competition to tackle an extremely important question. It’s clear that this isn’t pleasant for people in lower-ranking clubs. Especially in the football world, everyone is competitive and wants to perform. But what comforts me is that we did not receive any negative feedback from the clubs as a result of these broadcasts.

“We have reached a stage where clubs know that a standings will be announced later in the year and are asking us which new categories to consider.”

Have you seen any tangible effects, for example a club that was poorly rated and accelerated to rise the following year?
Yes, it had a positive impact when clubs were informed about the project even before we released our first ranking. Some clubs, especially global ones, can react very quickly if they spot an area where they are falling behind. A club like Southampton launched the “Halo Effect”, a program for sustainable development, after our initial ranking. Just seeing that they were in the middle of the table was an awareness for them, they thought they had done a lot. Liverpool also launched the ‘Red Mile’. The “chat” we started with our ranking increased their attention to these environmental issues. We have reached a stage where clubs know that a standings will be announced later in the year and are asking us which new categories to consider. The aim of our approach is to raise awareness among the fans, beyond the clubs. That’s why we highly value clubs’ communication about their actions: the easier a club has access to this information for its public, the more we tend to rate it. When we started our project, several clubs had a page on their site dedicated to ecology, now almost all of them have one.

Looking for scale effect?
Exactly. Sports is a microphone that speaks to the world. Reducing the carbon footprint of football is important, but by reducing the carbon footprint of football, you encourage almost the entire planet, the fans, the companies, the entire economy to do the same. football will change the habits of those who consume football. Football, and sport more generally, can change all other industries, such as the organization of transport, one of the most influential human activities. We get big gains if we change travel modes for teams and fans. Displacement of people will always have an environmental impact, but there are possibilities for progress if everyone makes an effort. However, in order for the words of the sports world to be convincing, the sports world must first set an example.

“It would be great if in the near future players could focus on the environment and make it a career choice lever. »

More and more young graduates are rejecting positions in large groups because they feel they are not advanced enough in terms of values, especially in the fight against global warming. Do you think one day the players will say no to a big club with arguments? “I’d rather go to Southampton, they do more for the climate than you…” ?
I would love for that to happen, but I don’t know if it’s possible in the near future. We’re talking about a choice at an individual level, it’s really possible for a player to do it, but it’s harder to imagine it becoming a huge phenomenon. It would be great if in the near future players could focus on the environment and make it a branch of career choice. But football is a very complex universe, the transfer system, loans, financial considerations, tactics… More generally, more and more football players are speaking publicly about environmental issues. For example, Patrick Bamford. Beyond club selection, there is a direct selection of sponsors by players and clubs. This is a criterion by which we want to integrate the environmental responsibilities of sponsors with whom clubs work. The challenge is to set fair benchmarks without positioning ourselves as the judges who decide what is good and what is bad. There are pure visions, a company that invests in fossil fuels has no place in a football club’s jersey, and there are more pragmatic visions of encouraging polluting groups to take a more virtuous approach. It is important not to exclude companies in transition as they can reap significant benefits.

What methodology is used to establish your club ranking criteria?
We mainly look at concrete transactions. Are they efficient in waste management or ineffective in efficient use of energy? We don’t necessarily use the carbon footprint, because on the one hand not all clubs calculated their own carbon footprint when we started, on the other hand because there are different ways to calculate it, different data that can be integrated into it. Focusing on actions is more concrete in communication, education, waste management. The way the clubs manage their sales is another very important criterion. This is an activity that can have a very heavy impact. Ranking isn’t as important as the dynamics it can trigger in clubs.

You mentioned collaborating with UEFA. Is it possible to one day see that a ranking exists? “Sustainability” With places guaranteed to the best federations or clubs for fair play?

I hope ! Sport Positive Leagues are not direct partners of our actions, but we are in close contact with them. It would be good for them to see this as a sufficient priority to consider such a mechanism in the future. I would be very happy if UEFA, FIFA or the Premier League could take matters into their own hands with strong decisions in this direction.

Do we have data to assess the overall impact of the football industry on the environment?
The phenomenon is very difficult because of the scale of its application. Only organizations like UEFA or FIFA can initiate studies to evaluate this, since they are probably the only organizations with the resources to do so. The most extreme point of football, its foundation, is amateur training. It is really difficult to evaluate this level, we can only evaluate the professional dimension, but it is up to the top organizations to take care of it.

President of a green club.

“After a while, this increase in the number of matches does not make sense if we want to seriously combat global warming. »

Is a professional football match possible that will be environmentally neutral?
We are still far from this ideal because we are really at the very beginning of the road. Because even if all clubs managed to have a neutral activity, there would still be a need to bring fans into the stadium. Neutrality will therefore depend not only on clubs, but also on other sectors of activity. Sport is a lever to create dynamics. It’s good to aim for carbon neutrality, but we have to be honest, we live in a fossil fuel economy. The football world will not change everything on its own. Afterwards, it is necessary not to be ambitious, to be patient, to think in terms of progress, to make progress even if it is small. The issue of neutrality is far from the truth, we have steps forward.

What inspires you, the 48-country World Cup, the Super League project, the 36-team Champions League?
I think to be honest, even if you love football, you can’t continue with ‘growth’ if you are serious about protecting the environment. We can understand the idea of ​​opening a World Cup to more countries, but organizations must assume that the motivations behind these expansions in the number of participants are above all financial. After a while, this increase in the number of matches does not make sense if we want to seriously combat global warming. This applies to sports, industry, commerce. We can no longer accept growth as a positive fact, we must consider doing more or better with what we have. If we continue on this path, one day the planet will be so destroyed that there will be no more high-level sports competitions.

Interview with Nicolas Jucha

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