It’s a joke that doesn’t work. At the end of a scorching summer marked by climatic phenomena of rare violence, the bantering tone and the comparison of the Paris Saint-Germain coach from the train to the sand yacht sound like a terrible disconnection from reality. And for a sport where its major players are often taken for models, the sequence is a task.
During this press conference, a journalist questions the relevance of taking a private jet, the means of transport chosen by the club, rather than a train for his trip between Paris and Nantes (380 km). Before even answering, the player Kylian Mbappé and his trainer Christophe Galtier exchange their looks and burst out laughing.
A desirable comparison could be that of the carbon dioxide emissions emitted for this same distance between the two means of locomotion mentioned. In a private jet, the carbon impact per person is measured at 43 kg of C02 equivalent, compared to 1 kg for the train. In another conversion, as many emissions are needed to produce 83 vegetarian meals.
What is a kilogram of C02 equivalent?
According to ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency): Significant greenhouse gas emissions are often measured with a simple index: kilograms of CO2 equivalent (kgCO2e). For example, 1 kg of methane is equivalent to 28 kg of CO2. If the manufacture of a product emitted 1 kg of methane and 1 kg of CO2, then the total impact of this product is 29 kg of CO2 equivalent.
If this controversy does bad press for the top of the basket of the round ball, it has the merit of (re) launching the debate on the ecological footprint of the professional football world. For more than 40 years, football has not only translated into a popular sport played on Sundays with friends or one-night opponents, but into a colossal industry.
» Number one sport in the world with more than 250 million players and five billion fans, football has continued to grow over the past seventy yearssummarizes the study “ Football and ecological transition of the Football Ecology France association. [Son] turnover [est] valued at around 400 billion euros. » A sum equivalent to twice the GDP of Peru.
As any industry generates pollution, where do the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions come from in the world of football? (Note here that this is the professional dimension of the sport and not the amateur.)
The matches, punctuating the seasons of a league 1 or a Cup, are appointments regularly bringing together a certain number of people (on average 20,000 individuals) and consuming a considerable amount of energy, drink, food . The carbon footprint is therefore colossal.
In 2018, the World Cup in Russia generated the emission of 2.16 million tonnes (excluding stadium construction), reports the study “ Football and ecological transition « . The Women’s World Cup, which took place in France in 2019, emitted 340,000 tonnes of CO2 (excluding travel by supporters), i.e. the equivalent of the annual emissions of 28,500 French people or the production of 55,000 tee- shirts.
If the movements of supporters are not taken into account, this does not mean that they are negligible, on the contrary. » The carbon footprint of an event like a World Cup or a Ligue 1 match is 80% transport, says Antoine Miche, president of the Football Ecology France association, president of the Football ecology France association, which campaigns for a » ecological and solidarity transition of football ». Among these 80%, 5 to 15% are linked to the travel of the teams concerned and their staff, so it is far from negligible.he says.
Although clubs such as Olympique Lyonnais facilitate the accessibility of their soft mobility infrastructures (free parking for bicycles, free shuttles available, tram service), the majority of stadiums are located on the outskirts of towns and require the use of the car to get there. Moreover, if the use of the train may have made some people laugh, it is the mode of transport favored by several first division teams. Betis Sevilla, Andalusian La Liga club, the Spanish first division, has just renewed its partnership with the Spanish railway to make all its travels this season by train.
It’s also the choice of English club Liverpool for some of these train journeys, as journalist Ahmed Al Sarraf’s tweet shows. In one photo, the players can be seen waiting on the station platform.
Balance of power
Other sources of pollution remain, however, significantly, linked to the operation of more or less old stadiums and therefore more or less energetically efficient. Once again, the steps vary according to the will of the clubs. The British NGO, Sport Positive Leagues has established a ranking of the clubs of the different European leagues according to their actions taken for a » environmental sustainability « . Scores are awarded according to several criteria: waste management, water efficiency, reduction or removal of single-use plastic or even biodiversity.
In terms of energy, while Clermont Foot 63, formerly heated by gas, is now connected to the district heating system with the city’s wood, Paris Saint-Germain has only equipped its Parc des Princes only 48 solar panels for his kitchen.
» The problem that I identify is that this kind of decision should be taken at the level of a professional league and at the end of negotiations imposed on the clubs, emphasizes Mathieu Djaballah, lecturer at the University of Paris-Saclay, specialist in social and environmental responsibility in sport. The balance of power between the federal authorities and the professional clubs, especially in Europe, where the clubs are very powerful, is complicated in order to be able to impose things. Moreover, some of these clubs are owned by foreign owners. France’s ecological future may not be their priority. »
But what to think of this will of the federal authorities, a few months before a World Cup in Qatar, one of the countries with the most CO2 emissions in the world per inhabitant? Last year, the Professional Football League (LFP) in order to promote the French championship abroad, had planned to relocate the meeting between Lyon and Monaco to Shanghai in China. A project that had never seen the light of day, for » health reasons « . The 2026 World Cup in a still unknown country will host 48 teams and 80 matches, compared to 32 teams and 64 matches for its edition in Qatar this fall.
We realize that audiences, for most sports, tend to age. Younger generations tend to be less into sports than 20 years ago.Mathieu Djaballah, lecturer at Paris-Saclay University, specialist in social and environmental responsibility in sport
Does the world of football really benefit from leeway in terms of changing the way things work? Shift the matches in the evening during the day? This will amount to going back to the specifications established with the broadcasting television channels. Favor the train rather than the plane? The performance of athletes could be affected by a longer journey. Reduce the number of matches? « Four fewer games means four times less revenue, television rights… retorts Mathieu Djaballah. We are coming to a time when we can no longer be satisfied with being proactive in ecological matters, while preserving the possibility of having the best sporting performance and pursuing the economic logic which is that of an expansionist undertaking. This is the problem we are facing today. »
If 77% of people questioned by Football France Ecology believe that football is not an ecological sport, the majority of them however believe that international bodies, whether political or sporting, have the greatest responsibility on the subject and must provide solutions to football players .
However, again according to the NGO, » estimates of the carbon impact of a football match indicate that a majority of emissions (between 75 and 95% depending on the organizers and the calculation methods chosen) are due to the travel of supporters and teams « . Before concluding, « if the conditions are met (satisfactory public transport offer, combined tickets, possibility of carpooling, bicycle parking, accessibility in soft mode, etc.), the supporter will become the last link in the chain to make such operational and relevant devices. »
Through this, the association also brings the idea that supporters can be agents of change, by initiating virtuous practices within their stadium. A concept defined by eco-supporterism: “ A movement that develops the civic and ecological proactivity of a supporter and allows him to act on his own sporting practice but also to contribute to the actions organized by his club. Organize cleaning campaigns, install zero-waste refreshment bars, so many initiatives pushed by amateur and professional clubs that could serve as models.
However, in parallel with a desire for good behavior on the part of the supporters, the birth of a critical mass could also come to short-circuit the lack of consideration of the clubs. » We can see that the audiences for most sports tend to age. The younger generations are generally less sport fans than 20 years ago, while having a much more spontaneous ecological awareness than the older ones., points out the expert. » The combination of the two variables will mean that perhaps in a few years, the pressure exerted by the demand and the spectators who finance this activity will be such that we will have to pay attention to it. »