For its travels, Ligue 1 has not yet boarded the train of change

Beyond the media outpouring it generated, the « bad taste joke », by the very admission of Christophe Galtier, the Paris-Saint-Germain coach who joked about trips to  » yachting «  rather than by private plane, at least had the merit of opening the debate. Are footballers eco-citizens like the others, called upon to reduce their carbon footprint and prefer the train to the plane?

A concrete example and at the origin of the question posed to the coach of the Parisian club at a press conference, Monday September 5: the journey by private jet to return from Nantes, where PSG had played on September 3, generates 50, 5 kg of CO2 per person against 0.69 for the TGV.

Read also: Christophe Galtier, the coach of PSG, is ironic about the trips of his players by private jet

Guilhem Pouillevet has been supporting large groups and institutions for fifteen years to help them reduce their CO emissions2. Before the Covid-19 crisis, the consultant had the opportunity to work on the subject with the Lille club and to approach others. With mixed success, he concedes. At the time, it was a non-subject, according to him. “Basically, the clubs are very little interested in this problem, but they realize like all the other companies that it is no longer possible to continue, at least for a question of image. »

The figures are there and have changed little, even if the latest available relate to the 2019-2020 season. According to a study by the Professional Football League (LFP), 65% of club journeys were made by plane, 31% by bus and 4% by train.

More flexible and rooted in habits for thirty years, the air standardizes the map of France. Instead, ask Laurent Nicollin, president of Montpellier Hérault: “To go to Strasbourg, the train is part of the expedition. You have seven or eight hours against an hour and a half in a private plane. For trips to the west, there are no high-speed lines. Even to go to Toulouse, you have to take the bus”laments the leader.

Some do, however, but sparingly. For two seasons, Stade Rennes thus travels by TGV (and in just over an hour and a half) when he has to face PSG at the Parc des Princes, with arrival the day before at Montparnasse station.

Cautious in its communication, for fear of passing for a lesson giver, the Breton club evokes a “ecological alternative”, but also emphasizes that this is revealed  » more complex  » insofar as the dates of the matches are fixed only three weeks in advance by the LFP to adapt to the requests of the TV broadcasters. Without forgetting a return made by coach, since the match schedule (9 p.m.) did not allow them to return to Ille-et-Vilaine the same evening.

The coach as a lesser ecological evil?

The lack of flexibility is also often the argument put forward by football clubs as an obstacle to the use of the train. Marseille-Lyon passengers should not immediately come across the Marseillais Dimitri Payet at the bar car on a match day. “We are discussing with the SNCF and we have studied the question to go to Lyon for example, but it is complicated with a match at 9 p.m. to return the same evening”, advances Jacques Cardoze, communications director of Olympique de Marseille (OM).

Sign of the times, however, OM favors the bus rather than the private jet to cover the 170 kilometers to Montpellier. « We inquired about an electric bus, it’s still complicated but it would be an alternative for journeys of two or three hours », advances Jacques Cardoze, who notes in passing that “87% of the emissions for a match are linked to the movements of the supporters”.

If the debate of recent days opposes plane and train, in reality it is the road, for short journeys, which essentially arises, for the moment, as a solution. Thus, RC Lens systematically travels by coach for journeys of less than four hours. Even the most addicted to the air get into it. This was the case for PSG for their trip to Lille on August 21.

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In the entourage of the champions of France, it is also argued that trips to Troyes, Auxerre and Reims are also planned by coach this season and that “the SNCF did not respond to our numerous requests to give guarantees on the safety of the players”.

For its part, the public company says it has not yet received a request for a quote from PSG, but ensures that it has suitable offers, in particular in terms of security. If there is no question of closing the Gare du Nord in Paris, for example, to ensure the tranquility of Neymar, Messi or Mbappé, it ensures that it can « block access to other cars so that the team travels with complete peace of mind », or « offer a departure outside Paris intramural, as from Massy-Palaiseau for example ».

Towards a Ligue 1 TGV?

But what about returns at night? In France, coaches like to see their players sleep at home after games to help them recover. “In Spain or England, the teams leave the next day. However, they have good results in the European Cup, it must work well.jokes Laurent Nicollin.

In its proposed solutions, the SNCF offers the possibility of reserving « special trains » whose circulation is not constrained by commercial timetables. But this solution has a cost and the inevitable maintenance work must be taken into account.

“As we are in commercial negotiations, the SNCF does not communicate on it, but the prices are still very high, because the volumes of activity are low and the plane [évalué entre 25 000 et 30 000 euros] still cheaper in comparison”, notes Guilhem Pouillevet. Realistically, the consultant does not immediately imagine putting all of Ligue 1 on track and believes that “15% [des trajets] are achievable by train » in the near future.

“All the actors, the LFP [Ligue de football professionnel], the clubs, the SNCF sit around a table. The subject is complex and once we have said “it’s bad to take the plane to return from Nantes”, we have to see concretely how we proceed. » According to him, the commercial offer is not adapted to the requirements of these very particular companies and the solution will go through these « special trains » if the clubs find themselves there financially. For this, it will be necessary to guarantee the SNCF a minimum volume of journeys over a season.

« We must think about an approach at the national level with the LFP and pool the costs, continues Mr. Pouillevet. We could very well consider a TGV [destiné] the movement of players, staff with two wagons reserved for them and marketing the other places for partners, VIPs or supporters. This TGV would circulate on each day of the championship, the teams would take it according to their needs and this would reduce the costs of use. Everything is yet to be imagined. »

The thrill is there. According to a study commissioned by the LFP, « 26% of clubs are ready to use the train for a direct journey of less than three hours and 39% are ready to try for a few matches ». At the SNCF, we say we are listening and ready to discuss so that the train is finally preferred to professional footballers.

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