Environmental Impacts of the World Cup

 Infographic by EU Infrastructure

As far as major international sporting events go, short of the Olympics, it doesn’t get much bigger than the World Cup. Massive international travel, infrastructure upgrades to accommodate the influx of visitors, building or renovation of stadiums, and the large amounts of waste generated by spectators are all part of the preparation and running of such a massive event.

This got us thinking, just how big is the carbon footprint of something like the World Cup? And what sorts of mitigation strategies are already in practice?

The answer to the carbon footprint question is: BIG. According to a pre-event study estimate by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in conjunction with the area Norwegian embassy, the carbon footprint for the event is 2.8 million tons. To quote Mike Berners-Lee, posting on the UK Guardian’s Green Living blog, “(that) is roughly equivalent to 6,000 space shuttle fights, three quiet years for Mount Etna, or 20 cheeseburgers for every man, woman and child in the UK.”

Levity aside, it is important to note that estimates of the impact vary widely, and what is important is to look at the overall pattern. Without question, the lion’s share of emissions are associated with athlete and spectator travel. This can make it hard for a more remote locale such as South Africa to remain competitively “green” compared to an event such as Germany’s 2006  World Cup event, which drew many of its participants via Europe’s centralized rail systems.

To the second question we posed, what are the best practices already in place for mega sporting events?

It is heartening to note that the problem of lessening impacts of major international sporting events is being taken seriously as a factor in weighing bids to host events. The bar was set by the the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the Lillehammer winter Olympic games in 1994, which incorporated sustainability dimensions in its planning. Incorporating sustainability concerns was then supported formally the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and has been a consideration of LOC’s at all subsequent Olympic games (Sebake & Gibberd, 2007). The bar was raised for the World Cup event by Germany’s 2006 LOC in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and the Oko-Institut, who together developed a “Green Goal Initiative”.

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World Cup 2010 Fun Fact:

SABMiller and Crown developed a full aperture beer can for the event that allows the patron to fully remove the lid and use the can as a drinking cup. This will cut down on the waste from plastic concession cups.

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