WPG

Why Football?

22-03-23

You may ask yourself, football and climate action?

You may ask yourself, football and climate action?What can this game advocate for? An attempt to save pitches from flooding, or a stop to global warming because it’s too hot to practice outside during the summer? Well, yes. 

But, in the grand scheme of things, it can advocate for a united front in the battle against climate change. This is crucial as this battle, in football terms, can be equated to the most important game on the planet. Most importantly, this is a game in which everyone has a role to play

We Play Green believes that we can save our planet from environmental and climate disasters by using football, and specifically the reach and influence of professional football players and clubs. Together, football can create mass awareness, sustainable attitudes and actions from the grassroots-up, and the start an impactful, long-lasting green chain reaction that results in necessary system change.

To us, football is a universal language that, if used appropriately, can be utilized to restore man’s balance with nature and a sense of teamwork that is both integral to the game, and a healthy life on planet earth.

 

Where do we start? We Play Green believes the best way to start is through awareness.

We interpret awareness as the acknowledgment that the planet is currently undergoing climate and environmental crises, and that there is still time and actions available to prevent the worst from happening.

So, why football? Because the reach of football is unprecedented and can therefore act as a great means to spread climate change awareness worldwide.

This sport has become one of the world’s most-followed social phenomena– an estimated 3.5 billion people around the world watch this game. This estimation of followers is equal to almost half of the world’s population. But, also equal to half, is the number of worldwide emissions that need to be cut by 2030 in order to avoid climate catastrophe.

 

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that to steer clear of climate catastrophe, global temperatures must be kept below 1.5C increase this century, meaning worldwide net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. More recently in 2022, the IPCC released an updated report with grimmer news; human-caused climate change is quickly approaching “irreversibility”.

The science is clear, our planet is warming. But, we still have time to prevent the worst from happening.

One of the biggest obstacles to achieving worldwide climate cooperation is that many individuals are unaware of the climate and environmental crises, are overwhelmed by them or do not believe in them (UNDP climate opinion survey). This is relevant as climate change is a multifaceted issue involving politics, businesses, and individuals. For a massive change to happen, there needs to be structural changes surrounding the centers of power, i.e., politicians and businesses. However, for this to happen, a transition to a low-carbon world requires the participation of grassroots initiatives in the form of individual responsibility, initiatives to vote, and the creation of pressure on centers of power.

This is where football can come in. Football and football players have enough reach and influence to put pressure on centers of power by starting to make people aware. An excellent example of this is the work of Manchester United and English National forward, Marcus Rashford. When the world was dealing with the unprecedented burden of the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020, Rashford made the UK public aware of another pandemic, child hunger, that was affecting low-income families around Britain heavily during lockdown.

Through his food campaign, he managed to gain enough media, charity, and individual support to manifest not one, but two government U-turns on his initiatives and feed 1.7 million kids. Through harnessing his platform as a football player, he brought people inside and outside the football community together in creating a united front and putting pressure on the government to make a change.

Imagine how many issues can be solved by using football as a platform to make people aware of them.

 

After awareness, the next logical step in saving the planet is through engagement.

Engagement is important as widespread participation on all levels of the football community is necessary to create a culture of sustainable behaviors and advocate for structural change on a global scale.

 

Football is already engaging as half the planet’s population somehow follows, plays, or supports the game. However, football is particularly engaging from a financial standpoint. For example, in Europe alone, the size of the football market is larger than some countries’ GDPs. Raking in €28.4bn for the 2017/2018 season, the European football market value is equal to the GDP of Cambodia in 2019, and football revenue worldwide is still projected to grow.

However, also equal to a small country is the amount of global carbon dioxide emissions the football industry produces yearly. For example, a large chunk of international football revenue is generated by fans engaging in widespread travel, fast fashion purchases, and food and single-use plastic waste. This kind of engagement produces around 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every year- about the same amount as the country of Denmark.

So, why football? Because it engages so many people worldwide that the industry itself produces as many CO2 emissions as a small country. This provides hope as we believe the current consumptive football culture can change for the better, just with a different kind of engagement. A great example of this was demonstrated by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.

In one of his post-match interviews at the 2020 UEFA European Championship, the Portuguese forward moved two Coca-Cola bottles away from him, briefly referencing he prefers to drink water. Yet, immediately after that happened, Coca-Cola’s market value and share price shrank by 4 billion USD and 1.6% respectively.

Despite the dip in market and share value being temporary, a casual gesture from a football player lost one of UEFA’s largest sponsors, and one of the world’s largest companies billions of dollars within seconds. Imagine how big of an impact a similar gesture could have made regarding football fossil fuel sponsorships or simply awareness of climate change? The point is, if willing, footballers have the reach to increase awareness on a mass scale and kick-start the necessary changes to make climate engagement happen.

 

 

Finally, a chain reaction is the necessary last step in creating a winning solution to the climate and environmental crises.

So, why football? Because football has a major influence on social norms and can therefore act as a catalyst to mobilize large social movements. By utilizing momentum gained from awareness and engagement, football can create long-lasting, impactful chain reactions that can manifest in climate-saving behaviors or social norms on both a local and global scale.

Football’s influence on social norms goes back to the principle that human beings are social animals, and therefore naturally want to belong to herds. Social norms can be defined as the cultivation of shared beliefs and attitudes among members of a group. Thus, it is clear that football, on a universal level, has created well-established social norms on and off the field. The most common and most general are the concept of game rules, fair play, and social identity within one’s team or football community. Climate psychologist Christian Klöckner takes this principle into a climate domain, explaining that if there are prominent leaders that begin to demonstrate a more climate-friendly lifestyle, the rest of the herd will take after.

As demonstrated in the last two sections through actions done by Rashford and Ronaldo, footballers are the leaders of the football “herd”. So, imagine if these leaders encouraged collective actions for the herd to follow, such as encouraging the re-use of kits or clothes instead of buying into fast-fashion trends, or moving attention towards voting for a certain anti-pipeline drilling bill. Creating awareness, activating engagement, and catalyzing a chain reaction in response to these issues can make a massive difference on who profits off football’s impressionable global revenue, and can create worldwide climate-friendly norms.

If you’re still unsure of the impact collective actions can make – just look at how quickly fans and players shut down the proposal of the European Super League of 2021. Within just 48 hours, football fans around the world demanded the preservation of the authenticity of the game, creating a unified front against a money-making scheme initiated by the world’s richest clubs. Fans, players, and coaches came together in under two days, and just like that, the clubs listened.

We Play Green:

That said, the environmental and climate crises also threaten the authenticity of the game. So, imagine how big of a chain reaction half the planet could create if we all worked together!  

WPG strives to encourage and assist professional football players in increasing awareness of climate change, as well as promoting inspiring dialogue and solutions to the environmental and climate crises. 

WPG hopes to reach every corner of the globe with the message that it is not too late to change the course of the climate for the better, and that it can be done through the universal language of football. So, let’s make a team with a roster of 3.5 billion people! Through We Play Green, we can elicit the awareness, engagement, and chain reaction needed to win the most important game on the planet.