After last week’s publication of an evaluation report by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Germany appears to have a slight upper hand in the race to host the 2024 European Football Championship – mostly due to concerns over human rights and infrastructure in Turkey, the last remaining contender. It is anyone’s guess which aspects of the bids will weigh heaviest when UEFA’s 16-member executive committee decides Euro 2024’s host country on 27 September.
Still, to further increase its chances of hosting, the DFB has included a sustainability concept with its bid, which goes beyond what UEFA asks for.
“We want to show that it is possible to organise a large-scale sporting event in an environmentally-friendly and resource-saving way,” said Celia Šašić, the DFB’s integration ambassador, about the concept, which was developed in cooperation with the Institute for Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut). It includes provisions on climate, energy and mobility. The DFB wants to introduce climate-friendly, long-distance travel options that fans can purchase as add-ons to their match tickets, set up a German Sports Climate Fund for local clubs, enhance energy efficiency and purchase 100 percent renewable electricity.
Sport researcher Ralf Roth, head of the Institute of Outdoor Sports and Environmental Science at the German Sports University Cologne, welcomes the concept as a renewed approach by the DFB to tackle sustainability in football with "many good ideas", but says that it lacks essential building blocks to make it binding. "To my knowledge, there are still no guarantees of implementation and no concrete goals for action," he told the Clean Energy Wire. [Read the full interview with Roth here.]
In the 74-pages document, the DFB writes that Germany is considered the world over as a pioneer in climate protection. “We therefore feel it only obvious that UEFA Euro 2024 also make a contribution to achieving the climate protection goals and takes suitable measures to keep the tournament’s climate impact to a minimum,” writes the organisation.
“Social responsibility and sustainability requirements have certainly evolved and gained in importance over the years,” a UEFA spokesperson told the Clean Energy Wire. Therefore, the organisation “is paying more attention” in this regard and has included questions on energy transition, smart mobility and circular economy in its bid template.
Germany, the country of the Energiewende – the planned transition to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy – has a history when it comes to sustainability efforts for big sports events. The federal environment ministry sees both the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup and the 2006 FIFA World Cup – both of which took place in Germany – as “successful examples” of sustainable major sports events. The ministry has also set up the Green Champions internet platform, an online guide on planning, preparing and carrying out such events.
However, in a paper released in 2017, the German government’s Environment and Sports Advisory Council, founded in 1994, criticised the lack of progress. “Despite various impulses and model projects, it has not been possible yet to […] orient sport towards sustainability and embed its development in a corresponding strategy.”
Most emissions at major sporting events caused by travel
More than 85 percent of greenhouse gas emissions related to major sporting events like Euro 2024 are caused by long-distance and local travel as well as accommodation of guests from all over the world, says researcher Roth who also serves as spokesperson for the government’s Environment and Sports Advisory Council.
At major sporting events it is never entirely possible to avoid CO₂ emissions. “From a scientific point of view, climate protection and the Euro 2024 would be compatible if the international arrivals and departures – almost exclusively flight emissions – were voluntarily offset through climate compensation by the polluters,” Roth told the Clean Energy Wire.
The researcher says compensation is also a personal responsibility of the international guests. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), for instance, had called on all participating countries to offset their greenhouse gas emissions themselves for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
While emissions could be offset in Turkey as well, Germany’s central location in Europe means that fans from neighbouring countries could easily reach the stadiums using eco-friendly modes of transport and not causing emissions in the first place.
Germany also has the upper hand regarding sustainability because the basic infrastructure – stadiums and transport infrastructure – “is already in place at a high standard and the operators and cities have the relevant experience and structures to organise major events in a sustainable way,” says Roth. “All stadiums already operate energy-efficient in order to be profitable.”
He sees the German concept as a renewed approach by the DFB to tackle the topic of sustainability after the Green Goal environmental concept for the FIFA World Cup 2006.
“There are many good ideas in the sustainability concept. Unfortunately, essential building blocks for the binding operationalisation of ideas are still missing in almost all relevant subject areas,” Roth says, noting that there are no guarantees of implementation and no concrete goals for action.
In his view, awarding the Euro 2024 to Germany could obligate the DFB and the host cities to actually get serious on sustainability. “Simply submitting concepts for applications for major events will not be enough. Sustainability requires permanent and consistent action.”
Turkey plans to plant ten million trees – one for every ticket holder
According to Philipp Lahm, the DFB’s Euro 2024 ambassador and former member of Germany’s national team, UEFA’s evaluation report “acknowledges the strengths” of the DFB’s bid. “We will continue just like before and emphasise the transparency and sustainability of our application,” says Lahm.
In the report, UEFA writes that Germany’s bid “comfortably exceeds expectations” regarding sustainable environmental aspects. Yet, so does Turkey’s bid, UEFA finds, while omitting the word “comfortably”.
Turkey’s bid brochure includes several provisions on ecological balance and clean energy. “We will specify that energy for the tournament must come from sustainable sources, including solar power, bio-solar roofs, and rainwater harvesting.” The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) also wants to plant 10 million trees – one in the name of every ticket holder – and promises to promote sustainable transport systems.
“In essence, it remains a football experience”
The German government welcomes the DFB’s choice to make sustainability a key issue for its application and sees the possibility for lasting impact. “There is a chance that major sporting events like this one will provide impetus for sustainable urban and regional development,” a spokesperson from the environment ministry told the Clean Energy Wire.
No matter which of the two countries gets to host the Euro 2024, sport can be a good vehicle to make the often abstract concepts of sustainability and climate protection more tangible for fans, says researcher Roth. “Without question, sport would have the power to bring these issues into society through its images, actors and members. […] It must lead the way with good examples.”
In the end, the 2024 UEFA Championship is going to be about football. Guests, fans and visitors expect the organisers to deliver on sustainability, energy efficiency and climate protection in and around the stadiums, says Roth. Still, “in essence, it remains a football experience.”