The UK is seeing it’s hottest ever summers. With this in mind, a video’s resurfaced asking ‘Will your football club be underwater in 2050?’
Tifo and The Athletic have looked into what rising temperatures, destructive storms and rising sea levels mean that by 2050, and it’s expected that up to a quarter of the 92 Premier League and EFL clubs can expect partial or total flooding of stadiums every year.
A Youtube clip explaining in detail how climate change poses a question that humanity can’t hide from. But how is football threatened by rising sea levels and carbon emission rates and – more importantly – what is it actually doing to mitigate those issues?
See it all below and be a judge of it for yourself as David Goldblatt, who first published the report in 2020, explains…
There are 92 league teams in England. By 2050, 23 of those teams – a quarter – can expect partial or total annual flooding of their stadiums.
Rising temperatures, prolonged periods of drought, new patterns of precipitation, destructive storms and rising seas levels; these are the extreme weather events with which football will have to cope in the future. This is how the game can mitigate its most disastrous consequences.
In 2015, English football got a glimpse of the future when the torrential rain accompanying ‘Storm Desmond’ saw Carlisle United’s Brunton Park flooded and the club forced out of the stadium for seven weeks.
Operations manager Nigel Dickinson said: “When we were able to access our stadium about three days later, office desks had been turned over by the force of the water which had risen to a height of nearly ten feet on the lower concourses.”
Despite this, and with enormous effort, the club was able to win an FA Cup third round tie away from home and bring Everton back to Brunton Park for the Fourth Round.
There are limits to most fairy tales and Everton won that game 3-0, Carlisle sustained huge costs, and now, as a result, pay massively increased insurance premiums.
And, in 2017, their training grounds and car park flooded all over again.
Storm Desmond is just one part of a wider pattern of extreme weather events produced by global climate change.
In the last year alone: – The 2019 Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented pacific typhoons, The 2019 Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were forced to move long distance running events 1000km north of the capital as the city’s sweltering summer weather now makes them impossible to run.
So, what will all this mean for football?
Very hot weather is going to be a problem for spectators and players alike.
The physiology of overheating is complex, but once you start hitting 33 to 35 centigrade and you are playing football, it’s all bad news, and there are going to be a lot more days like that in the global football calendar in the next few decades.
Memory, eye hand coordination, and concentration all start suffering, then there are heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup and African Cup of Nations were played in conditions like this, and hotter. FIFA introduced extra water breaks for players but this and more extreme measures will have to become the norm in many parts of the world.
It is only a matter of time until, like the Austrian Tennis Open of 2014, we are medically treating thousands of spectators for heat exhaustion.
Summers will be hotter in many places, but winter football will be wetter and wilder, and costal stadiums will be confronted by facing rising sea levels.
Using mapping technology combined with mainstream climate change and sea level models, we can see that, by 2050, Werder Bremen’s Weserstadion and Toronto FC’s BMO Field will be partially flooded every year, and Bordeaux’s Matmut Atlantiq stadium will be completely flooded annually.
However, this is as nothing to the fate awaiting the football stadiums of England and the Netherlands.
In England, 23 of the 92 Football League grounds can expect partial or total annual flooding of their stadiums by 2050.
The four under threat are Southampton’s St Marys, Norwich’s Carrow Road, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and West Ham’s London Stadium, Hull City and Cardiff City’s grounds, which will both be entirely under water. Middlesbrough’s Riverside will itself avoid flooding, but nonetheless require a flotilla of boats to get fans to the ground across the wide-flooded plains of the city.
Doncaster will suffer the same fate along with Grimsby Town’s Blundell Park, which will sit beneath the new North Sea.
Things will be wet in Netherlands too where the stadiums of Alkmaar Den Haag, Groningen, Heerenveen and Utrecht can look forward to total annual flooding, with partial floods for Ajax and Feyenoord.
This kind of weather doesn’t only effect professional sport, but amateur and grassroots sport as well. In England in 2014, the average grassroots pitch lost five weeks per season to bad weather, and a third of these pitches lost between 2 and 3 months in a season.
Football is not just a victim of change, but an important contributor to global heating too. So how much carbon does it produce?
As a measure, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa produced 2.75 Million Tonnes, Brazil in 2014 produced 2.27 Million Tonnes and, most recently, the 2018 tournament, hosted in Russia, produced 2.16 Million Tonnes.
Of those figures, on average, around three quarters is attributable to fans travelling to the tournaments. And, on the basis of spectator attendance, World Cups are around a fifth to a quarter of all of international football over a four-year cycle, meaning that the game is racking up around 10 million tonnes of carbon a year, an output roughly equivalent to the whole of Bolivia.
What about club football? One of the best studies of carbon emissions from a football club is for Fluminense, from Rio, in 2014.
This calculated that the club’s activities, all their teams, aviation and spectator travel included, emitted 2,500 tonnes a year. If this were the average for the Brazilian top division teams then the league as whole would be emitting 50,000 tones a season.
Translating this into emissions for other leagues, in richer countries which generally emit more carbon and generate more waste, we can adjust by looking at the ratio of per capita carbon emissions between Brazil and another country. So, in the case of the English Premier League, the ratio would be 2.37/5.59 = 2.35
We can assume that a Premier League club produces approximately 2.35 times as much carbon as a Brazilian club. So, that gives a figure for the Premier League of 110,793 tonnes a year.
However, the EPL has a lot more spectators than the Brazilian championship, and spectators are the biggest carbon emitters. So, again, a ratio needs to be calculated, with the Premier League attracting 14.5m spectators per year to the Brazilian’s championship’s 8.5m.
This makes an estimated carbon total for the EPL of 110,793 x 1.7 = 200,117 Tonnes per year.
This would mean an average for each club of about 10,000 tonnes a year with similar, back-of-the-envelope calculations giving figures of around 140,000 tonnes a year for La Liga and Serie A.
By the time you’ve added up the world’s more than two hundred leagues, added all the intentional club competitions in, accounted for the huge aviation consumption of the football business itself and factored in a football-sized chunk of the carbon footprint of the sportswear industry, that’s a carbon footprint the size of another small nation.
Some parts of the football world have been acting on this:
Perhaps the biggest challenge for global sport is dealing with the carbon emissions from spectator attendance, especially at international events, which generate huge amounts of air traffic.
UEFA experimented at the 2016 European Championships with a campaign and app that would allow fans to offset their own carbon emissions when attending the tournament, but the take up was very low. Consequently, UEFA decided to absorb the entire costs of offsetting the aviation emissions for EURO 2020 themselves.
If international football is to continue in anything close to its current form this must, at the minimum, be the default model for every single international sporting event.
Best in class has been Forest Green Rovers, in Nailsworth in the west of England, who are the first UN certified carbon zero football club in the world.
The club uses 100 per cent renewable energy, has switched to vegan food for staff and fans, installed extensive rainwater recycling, a solar powered lawn mower and plenty of electric vehicle charging points.
It now has planning permission to build the first new wooden stadium in Britain for over a century, and the first carbon zero stadium ever.
German football is also leading the way. Both Mainz FC and SC Freiburg have almost a decade of environmental work behind them, pioneering recycling, green waste management and the use of renewable energy in football.
Werder Bremen has built one of the largest solar panel arrays in football, introduced ferry services to the stadium to cut down on car use, and has actually banned car parking around the stadium on match days.
All three of these clubs encouraged their staff to attend the Friday for Future climate strikes.
TSG Hoffenheim, meanwhile, has been investing in African forestry, as well as sustainable textile and environmental education projects.
Elsewhere in Germany, Augsburg FC invested heavily in a geothermal energy system to make their new stadium carbon neutral, while VfL Wolfsburg almost uniquely in the world game, has calculated its carbon footprint.
While these initiatives have been a useful start, they are not a solution.
In an effort to bring some political urgency to the problem, the UN and some of the leading world sports organisations including FIFA and UEFA, in 2016, launched the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework and invited the sporting world to sign up.
It requires organisations to take systematic measures to reduce their carbon emissions and reach climate neutrality by 2050. Along the way they are asked to educate their athletes, clubs and spectators on climate change issues, and advocate for sustainable solutions.
There are, however, no targets in the framework, and no mechanisms of control, and, above all, no adequate sense of urgency. The climate science is increasingly clear: the “limit temperature rises to 1.5C by 2050” model will be pretty catastrophic in its own right, and that we have to do the vast majority of our decarbonisation in the next decade.
Which means: Every football federation, football league, and club needs to sign the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework. They should commit, within one year of signing, to draw up and publish a comprehensive ten year plan that will ensure that their own operations and that of their sport, including spectator travel, are carbon zero by 2030.
After 2030, any football events that are not carbon zero should be cancelled or postponed until they are. National football federations that are not carbon zero could be excluded from international competition.
Progress on carbon reduction could be part of the annual audit that clubs undergo and a precondition of their participation in national leagues.
The same rules should be applied to any company that wants to be a sponsor or broadcaster, and, finally, hat football needs to wean itself of petro-chemical and aviation sponsorship as soon as possible.
And then there is the question of hope. In short supply and with many, many calls upon it.
Football, from the street to the stadium, generates hope. Hope that: that hard work yields improvement; that no cause is lost until the game is actually at an end; that the past tells us miraculous recoveries, turnovers and rallies are possible; (and) that human beings, individually and collectively, have the heart and the wit, when the time comes, to make it happen.