World Cup Soccer – How Green is the World Cup?

World Cup Soccer (Football everywhere in the world except for the USA) is now officially underway.

Billed as the biggest sporting event in the world, the World Cup generates enormous excitement. The fan base is gigantic and worldwide, and many loyal soccer fans like to travel to see their teams compete. This means a large number of spectators and players flying into South Africa, staying in hotels, getting transported to the newly-built stadiums, creating a big increase in demand for South Africa’s mostly coal-based energy. The unfortunate result is that the world’s biggest sporting event will leave one of the world’s biggest carbon footprints. The group EU Infrastructure has estimated that the 2010 World Cup will generate 2.75 million tons of CO2, 6 times larger than the last World Cup held in Germany four years ago.

But it isn’t all bad form an environmental point of view. There are some very green aspects to this year’s World Cup. For example, consider the uniforms worn by Team USA. The remarkable jerseys are made of a high performance material produced from recycled plastic bottles. The double-knit fabric is more flexible and stretchy than other fibers and the resulting jersey is 15 percent lighter than a standard soccer shirt. There is even high-tech ventilation created on the sides created from hundreds of small laser-cut holes. Other teams using these high tech, recycled jerseys are Australia, Brazil, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, and South Korea. All in all, about 13 million bottles were diverted from landfills to make the uniforms. How’s that for going green?

Public transportation to get fans to and from the stadiums will cut down on traffic and pollution from emissions. Recycling and composting are also being strongly encouraged.

Events like the World Cup are meant to be enjoyed, and they should be. I think there is a social good derived from international sporting competitions, and there are cultural benefits from the experience of international travel. The games also create a lot of personal enjoyment for the fans (and some anguish!). We should be mindful of the environmental impact of events like the World Cup, and take steps to mitigate that impact by good management, but I am for keeping these events as part of our world culture. Life is also meant to be enjoyed, and if people were not heading to South Africa to watch soccer matches, they would likely be traveling elsewhere on a vacation.

And fortunately, the impact is temporary. Once the World Cup month is over, everyone goes home and life returns to a semblance of normal. But perhaps the high-tech jerseys will catch on!

Amelia J. Bell

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