The last few months have had so many ups and downs. One of the closest Premier League title races in years is over, the Manchester City domestic treble, and we are just days away from an all-English Europa League and Champions League final. For those of us that love football, it has been one hell of a rollercoaster these last few weeks. If you don’t enjoy football, you’ve seriously missed out on the drama!!

The finals are always held in pre-selected locations. This year the Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham will be held at the Estadio Metropolitano – home of Atletico Madrid – in the Spanish Capital.

The Estadio Metropolitano. Home of Atletico Madrid.

The Europa League final will be held much further afield in the Baku Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan. Arsenal and Chelsea fans have already struggled to sell their allocation of tickets to the final due to the difficulties of reaching Baku – only limited numbers of direct flights exist between London and Baku.

Baku Olympic Stadium

UEFA has always aimed to bring Europe’s biggest football competitions to every corner of the European continent but what is the environmental impact of having thousands of fans fly hundreds or thousands of miles to watch their team compete in their respective finals?

Ticketing Trouble

For the first time in European football history, all four finalists are from England. Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea fans will be flying out of England in their thousands to either Madrid or Baku to watch their team fight for champions of Europe.

The total numbers of tickets sold by each club haven’t yet been confirmed but both Liverpool and Tottenham received 17,000 tickets from UEFA to sell to their fans. So assuming that both clubs sold out their allocation, that’s 34,000 fans travelling to Madrid. That doesn’t include the thousands that may fly, drive or find other ways of getting to the final without tickets into the stadium!

There have been dramatically fewer tickets sold for the Europa League final in Baku. Between a protest against the lack of tickets given to Arsenal and Chelsea for their fans and the cost of getting to Baku in the middle of the week, only 3,500 and 2,000 have been sold respectively. There is also the added controversy of one Armenian Arsenal player being unable to play over safety concerns due to political unrest between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Henrik Mkhitaryan is unable to play due to safety concerns

Flying to the Finals

Given the two final locations, flying is the most likely form of transport for all four sets of fans to use. In the case of the Madrid final, some may drive or find other ways to reach the Spanish Capital just to be part of the atmosphere – whether they have tickets or not!

All that travelling contributes to a release of carbon emissions and contributes to climate change. All for a single event that, given the all-English finalists, would be much better played in England (or at least a lot closer!)

A return flight from Liverpool to Madrid has a total footprint of around 0.24 tonnes of CO2. A return flight from London to Madrid is slightly less at around 0.21 tonnes of CO2. Add the two together for the 17,000 fans from each city then, just for fans with tickets, the total carbon footprint is around 7,650 tonnes of CO2. For perspective, that’s the same as adding 1,500 cars on city streets for an entire year!

Baku is a lot further from London than Madrid is and a return flight across to Azerbaijan releases almost three times the emissions of the flight to the Spanish capital, assuming you were able to get a direct flight. Flights with stops would likely have an even greater carbon footprint. At 0.69 tonnes of CO2 per person per return flight from London, assuming it would be direct, that’s around 3795 tonnes of CO2 for the estimated 5,500 tickets that have been sold between the two clubs.

TakeOff_Artyom AnikeevShutterstock800.jpg
Air travel produces a lot of greenhouse gases

That figure above is just for the roughly 40,000 fans of the four clubs that have tickets. It doesn’t include more than 80,000 other ticket holders for both finals that will no doubt be travelling from places not just in Europe but all over the world. It also doesn’t include travel to and from airports or emissions related to thousands of extra people being in Madrid and Baku either…

Euro 2020

Every four years the European countries compete for the European National Championship. Traditionally it has always been played in a single country or shared between two nations that are geographically close together. Each nation had a base for the tournament but they’d travel between cities to play matches with supporters closely in tow.

However, the 2020 tournament is set to be very different. Games will be played right across the European continent. From Glasgow to Bucharest, Bilbao to Baku, there will be 12 host nations with the semi-finals and finals to be played at Wembley Stadium in London. Teams will travel all over the continent for games.

It’s an interesting concept. People from different countries all over Europe will have access to watch some of the greatest players in the world play at an international tournament, fulfilling UEFA’s goal of giving as many as possible access to the beautiful game.

The environmental impact and carbon emissions from the tournament could be huge though. Nations playing in different countries all over Europe with fans following the journey that will eventually end in London has the potential to lead to huge emissions. The short time between games means that flying will be the only way for many to travel between matches and would have a huge impact on the release of carbon emissions.

It seems that money talks far too loudly over the environmental impact of hosting European finals in the furthest corners of the European finals and championships…




3 thoughts on “Football’s Environmental Footprint

  1. A very thought-provoking piece, Mike. With all the hullabaloo about the other aspects of the Europa League final, the environmental impact is one that few would have considered so you’ve done a good job highlighting it. All the best, Matt

    1. Thank you for your kind words Matt! It doesn’t seem to be considered by UEFA when they’re selecting host cities as far away as Azerbaijan when the likelihood is is that a finalist will come from Western Europe

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