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A flying tackle: The environmental impact of the Premier League

As the 2023-24 Premier League season draws to a close, we can look back on a season full of memorable moments. From points deductions, Jürgen Klopp’s swansong, and Alejandro Garnacho’s bicycle kick, to Nottingham Forest’s stern words to the Luton ‘ultras’ managing VAR, yet again the league has delivered in drama and entertainment – but is it delivering in terms of its climate responsibilities? 

An overlooked aspect of the Premier League, and the English Football League more broadly, is the impact it exerts upon the environment. In 2019, the Premier League reportedly brought in 1.5 million inbound visitors from overseas to watch a live match. Whilst in the 2022-23 season, the aggregate attendance for the top-four English football leagues was over 34 millionwith many of those fans undoubtedly travelling far and wide to support their team. Such a large movement of people each week, in addition to the power, energy, and resources needed to host these matches, raises the question of the environmental consequences of the sport.  

Fan travel is one of the biggest contributors to the sport’s carbon footprint. Premier League club Wolves cited fan travel as responsible for the highest proportion of the club’s emissions. Research published last year found that Premier League fans travelling by car could collectively save 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every season if they switched to travelling via train.  

Similarly, player travel is also a heavy contributor, with many clubs still choosing to travel to domestic matches by private jet. In the 2022-23 season, Manchester City flew to 10 out of 19 away league games, producing enough carbon emissions to account for 402 journeys on an electric coach.  

Studies have found Premier League matches to be a huge consumption of resources and energy.

This issue is only amplified on a global level, with the last FIFA World Cup, hosted in Qatar, the nation with the highest emissions per capita in the world, generating 1.9 million tonnes of CO2 from fan and athlete travel alone. 

Outside of travel, studies have found Premier League matches consume a huge amount of resources and energy. An estimated 20,000 litres of water per day are needed to maintain a Premier League football pitch, in addition to the significant amount of energy required to power large stadiums and floodlights. Evidently, the Premier League faces several hurdles in limiting the damage it causes to the climate, so what are the solutions? 

For player travel, the answer is obvious. Flights should not be taken for journeys which can be made in similarly good time by train or coach. In France, the government has taken measures to ensure this, with short-haul flights banned where the same journey could be made by train in under two-and-a-half hours.  

When it comes to fan travel, this is perhaps trickier. Falling into the ‘indirect’ emissions category, it is therefore perceived as outside the responsibilities of the league. Despite this, in Germany, an initiative has been introduced to include free use of local public transport with matchday tickets, attempting to limit road traffic emissions from fans and presenting another example where England may wish to follow suit.   

In the league as a whole, there is an impressive recycling rate of 90%.

In terms of energy use, waste, and wider climate commitments, the Premier League is showing signs of moving in the right direction, with notable steps taken by the traditional ‘Big Six’ clubs to minimise their negative impact upon the climate. Arsenal became the first club in 2020 to sign the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, supporting the implementation of five key climate action principles. Following suit, the rest of the Premier League later joined and signed on to these commitments. Clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham have also switched to a reusable cup system to reduce their amount of waste, and in the league as a whole, there is an impressive matchday recycling rate of 90%. The Tottenham Hotspur stadium has set the benchmark for new stadiums too by using 100% renewable energy and sending zero waste to landfill, showing clubs it is possible to sustainably expand and develop.  

As our national sport, and something that unifies people across the country, it can only be a net-positive for the environment if the Premier League and the FA lead by example in making serious climate commitments and taking meaningful action to realise such promises.  


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