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2022 Qatar “Carbon-Neutral”​ World Cup and Looking Ahead to 2026

    by C.Y. Cheng, U-M Men’s Soccer ’22

    Source: The Crusader

    As a former Hong Kong National Youth Team and University of Michigan Varsity Soccer Player, the World Cup is without question the biggest stage any soccer player could dream of. Every four years, the event gathers the world’s best players and spectators for soccer’s biggest summer party. However, this year’s event is unlike any previous ones.

    Most expensive World Cup ever: Qatar is estimated to have spent as much as $220 billion since being chosen as a World Cup host in 2010. The amount is more than the host’s annual GDP in 2021 and more than 15 times what Russia spent for the 2018 event.

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    Source: Statista

    “Winter” World Cup: With Qatar’s weather unbearably hot in the summer (regularly exceeding 100°F/ 38°C), FIFA pushed the tournament back to November and December, instead of its traditional July and August dates. All eight stadiums have installed an advanced cooling system to cool those in the stadium down.

    First-ever carbon-neutral World Cup:  In January 2020, Qatar and FIFA unveiled the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Sustainability Strategy and labeled it the first-ever carbon-neutral World Cup. It includes a comprehensive set of initiatives to mitigate tournament-related emissions, including energy-efficient stadiums, low-emission transportation, and sustainable waste management practices. Moreover, the remaining unavoidable emissions will be offset. In June 2021, FIFA estimated a total of 3.6m tonnes of carbon emissions would be produced during the tournament, more than what some countries release in a year and 1.5m tonnes more (an increase of 67%) than the total produced in Russia 2018. Many climate experts have discredited their carbon-neutral initiative due to the accounting of total emissions and quality of carbon offset projects. According to Carbon Market Watch, the construction of six new permanent stadiums (out of the eight) has generated a carbon footprint 8 times greater than FIFA’s estimate. To date, Qatari organizers have pledged to buy 1.8 million carbon offsets from the Global Carbon Council, a Doha-based carbon credit registry where renewable projects are verified and listed. But carbon analysts have said the credits issued by the registry are of dubious quality because it’s unclear that they are “additional,” or fund carbon-reducing projects that would not have otherwise existed.

    Compact design: Unlike previous World Cups where stadiums are spread miles across the country, all games are played within 50 km (31 miles) of Doha with the longest distance between venues just 75 km (46 miles). Organizers say the close proximity of stadiums and the transport links, including a new metro system and a fleet of electric buses, is a key feature of the “carbon-neutral” World Cup.

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    Source: FIFA

    Looking ahead to the 2026 World Cup: This year’s World Cup has reignited the conversation over the “de-carbonization” future of major international sporting tournaments. Stakeholders have become more conscious about the impact of their favorite sports on the planet, and all future major events will likely follow Qatar’s “greening” efforts. The 2026 World Cup will be co-hosted by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympic Games. Unlike Qatar, many sporting infrastructures to host these events across North America already exist. But with stadiums spread across the host nations, player and fan travel remains an issue that needs to be addressed at all levels. Since travel-related activities are a major contributor to the overall carbon emissions of sporting events, these upcoming events provide a collaborative opportunity for all stakeholders involved to play an essential role in promoting more sustainable and responsible sporting events.