Biggest Green-Sports Story of 2023

Readers Ask: What About Two Steps Forward, One BIG Step Back On Climate Progress in Soccer


We hope you had a great Christmas yesterday!

Our Comments section is down and under repair, we apologize for the inconvenience. With that in mind, thank you to the many GSB readers who made the effort to reach out to me via email, text, and phone since last Wednesday when we published our ‘Biggest Green-Sports Story of 2023: Two Steps Forward, One BIG Step Back on Climate Progress in College Sports’.

The gist was pretty much the same from most everyone: ‘You got it right on college sports but what about soccer/football, the most popular sport in the world?’

Y’all made a good point so here on Boxing Day are our…

Two Steps Forward, One BIG Step Back on Climate Progress on Soccer


Two Steps Forward

The climate progress ledger surrounding the world’s most popular sport was impressive in 2023.

Women’s World Cup Players Offset Travel

A group of 44 players at the Women’s World Cup, led by Denmark’s Sofie Junge Pedersen, mitigated the environmental impacts of their flights to and from Australia and New Zealand. The story was picked up by major media, including Reuters, Forbes, and Sky Sports News. Her quote to the latter is most important and is worth repeating: “We are not perfect, that is important to say. I do not think anyone in our part of the world can speak up about climate change and the green transition if everybody who does so has to be carbon neutral. Nobody is in our part of the world. But we have to celebrate all climate-friendly actions. That is something we can do and it is important. We want to inspire people.”

Sofi Junge Pedersen (Photo credit: Danish Football Association)

NYCFC Commits to Building an All-Electric Stadium

NYCFC of Major League Soccer committed to building and operating the first all-electric sports venue in North America, with HOK Sports as the facility’s designer. The 25,000 seat stadium, which will be located in Flushing, Queens adjacent to the Billie Jean King  National Tennis Center and Citi Field, is slated to open in 2027.

Rooftop solar will generate three to four megawatts of electricity, making the installation one of the largest in the sports world. And progressive laws regarding new construction in New York City as well as the state of New York certainly helped to make the all-electric stadium a reality.

Particularly relevant to this project are:

  • New York State’s 2023 All-Electric Building Act which requires that, as of 2029, large new buildings cannot connect to major gas lines
  • New York City’s 2019 Local Law 97, which requires buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet strict energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2030, with the goal being to reduce building-related emissions by 40 percent by that time.
Artist rendering of the environmental and climate remediation aspects of the proposed NYCFC stadium (Credit: New York City Football Club)

Fossil Free Football Launches to Rid Sport of Oil, Gas, Coal Sponsorship

To say that Frank Huisingh is committed to the #ClimateComeback is an understatement.

The Ajax supporter started a year of unpaid leave from his job at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to launch and work full time on Fossil Free Football, which kicked off in June. The organization’s main activity so far has been publishing blogs urging FIFA and UEFA — football’s/soccer’s most powerful governing bodies — to, in their words, kick fossil fuels out of football by prohibiting them from sponsoring clubs and advertising in-stadium and/or on game broadcasts. They then work to push their messaging to media with bigger audiences.

Huisingh and Co. are not limiting their focus to fossil fuel producers like Russian gas giant Gazprom (sponsor of Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade among other clubs; UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, parted ways with Gazprom as a reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but allows individual clubs to make their own decisions) and British fracking company Ineos (its founder Jim Ratcliffe just purchased 25 percent of Manchester United). They also include airlines, automakers (aside from those promoting EVs), cruise lines, banks that keep financing fossil fuel expansion and cryptocurrencies that use enormous amounts of dirty energy, as industries that need to be relegated to the dustbin of football sponsorship history.

There is no doubt that Fossil Free Football’s battle vs. the football-fossil fuel company sponsorship/advertising axis is a classic David vs. Goliath story. After all, these companies represent a significant chunk of sports sponsorship and advertising revenue, perhaps matched only by the beer and, more recently, the sports betting industries. But, what we said in last week’s ‘Two Steps Forward, One BIG Step Back’ column on college sports applies here: things are impossible until they’re not.

Russian gas giant Gazprom sponsors top Serbian football club Red Star Belgrade (Photo credit: Red Star Belgrade)

One BIG Step Back (It Really Was TWO)

FIFA Gives Climate a Red Card With Its 2030 and 2034 Men’s World Cup Site Decisions

Imagine that FIFA issued this press release in October. The impacts of climate change are an existential threat to football and to humanity. On the flip side, solving our climate problems provides us with the greatest economic and social opportunities of the 21st Century. That is why FIFA is making climate action a key pillar of every aspect of football going forward. With that in mind, we are announcing that the 2030 Men’s World Cup will be organized by Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile. Travel distances within the stadiums will be compact as compared to Canada-Mexico-USA 2026. Uruguay will host the Opening Game to honor the centennial of the first World Cup, hosted in and won by that country in 1930. Argentina, a 3-time World Cup winner, will host one semifinal. Paraguay, one of the most sustainable countries in the Global South thanks to its reliance on clean hydropower, will host the other semifinal. And Chile, which has led the way globally on solar installations, will host the final. Furthermore, FIFA announces that Morocco, Spain, and Portugal will organize the 2034 Men’s World Cup. The opening game will be played in Casablanca. One minute before kick off, a switch will be flipped and the first transmission line that will take electricity generated from a massive solar farm in Morocco, under the Mediterranean, to Spain and Portugal will go live.

Unfortunately, FIFA went in the opposite direction, and in a big way.

The organization, which has long touted its environmental sustainability bona fides, announced on October 4 that it had awarded the 2030 Men’s World Cup to all of the countries listed above, minus Chile, making it a sprawling trans-Atlantic global event on three, count ’em three, continents. Estimates are this will add 5.5 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Beyond the emissions increases, the subliminal message from FIFA to fans, broadcasters, players and other stakeholders is ‘climate, shmimate! We’re going to do what we want, especially when there is more money to be made.’

And then FIFA doubled down on its We Don’t Really Care About Climate Change approach when it gift wrapped the 2034 Men’s World Cup to Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has, per The Guardian, spent $6.7 billion since 2021 on high profile sports deals (LIV Golf, purchasing Newcastle FC, luring an aging Cristiano Ronaldo to its pro league with a $213 million annual salary). The goal, according to leading international human rights and environmental organizations, is to distract or sportswash from its poor human rights and climate action record.

How long will it take for the FIFA’s of the world to turn alternative histories like the one proposed above into reality? 

2024 would be a good time to start.

FIFA awarded the the 2034 Men’s World Cup to Saudi Arabia 

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