It was fun, it was loud, it was colourful and it was a huge success. But especially green it was not. In fact, by several measures, the FIFA World Cup 2010 was possibly the least eco-friendly major international sporting event ever.
Before we let the euphoria of all the excess gees generated by a job brilliantly done hurtle us towards hosting other global mega shows – the Olympics, in particular – we’d do well to honestly assess some of the environmental shortcomings of the World Cup, along with other concerns around the (mis)allocation of scarce resources, white elephant stadiums and the behaviour of bully-boy organisers like FIFA.
An authoritative study sponsored by the Norwegian government estimates that the WC2010 was responsible for producing excess greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 2.7 million tones of CO2. That may be less than a percent of our national annual emissions, but it makes for a carbon footprint twice the size of that of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and more than eight times that of the WC2006 in Germany.
The event showed up our dirty, coal-fired electricity generation industry (12.4% of emissions came from energy use in accommodation), our carbon-intensive transport infrastructure within cities and between the far-flung stadiums (19%) and, most dramatically, the fact that we are located a great distance from most of the planet’s affluent football fans (a whopping 67.4% of emissions were due to international travel).
Yes, there was talk of “green goals”, but most of these appeared to be more ad hoc afterthoughts rather than binding and substantive commitments. Planting trees, even many thousands of them, is nice, but it’s also a notoriously ineffective method for sopping up CO2. The fact that African teams wore jerseys promoting biodiversity and that those of Brazil, Portugal and the Netherlands were partially made out of recycled plastic bottles amounts to little more than greenwashed corporate PR. Our stadiums, though stunningly beautiful and wonderfully accommodating, appear to incorporate disappointingly little in the way of green design.
Golden opportunity missed
Does this mean that, from an environmental perspective, we shouldn’t host major international events again? Not at all. It just means that we missed a golden opportunity in 2010 and that there is much room for improvement in the future.
It’s been estimated that it would take in the order of R200m to offset the WC2010 carbon footprint. A big sum, sure, but not an impossible one in the context of a multi-billion rand event. Imagine if that sort of money had been invested directly in greening South Africa. In a massive energy efficiency campaign, for example. Or to kick-start a home-grown renewable energy manufacturing industry. The single wind turbine that provided some green electricity to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was a commendable initiative, but why wasn’t this sort of thing an integral part of the plan for every stadium right from the start. The environmental benefits would have been as lasting as the wonderful footballing memories.
Around the world, new and refurbished eco-friendly sports stadiums are now being built using sustainable and recycled materials, incorporating systems that optimise energy and water savings, capture, clean and reuse waste and rainwater and generate their own electricity with renewable energy technologies. The 2012 Olympic Stadium in London, for instance, will have a façade wrapped in low-impact hemp, while the large roof of the World Games Stadium in Taiwan is covered in solar panels that power the entire facility and supply surplus electricity to the city of Kaohsiung. A stadium that doubles as a gigantic rainwater storage device and renewable energy power station between the odd fantastic sporting event stands much less of a chance of becoming a money-draining white elephant than some of our brand new arenas.
How about the 2020 Olympics then? Bring it! If we make the environment as fundamental and central a priority on the agenda as running a spectacular show to wow the planet, it’ll be even better than the World Cup.