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What is UEFA's 'Cleaner Air, Better Game' campaign?

UEFA’s football social responsibility programme is piloting a climate action campaign – Cleaner Air, Better Game – that will run throughout the 2021 European Under-21 Championships in Hungary and Slovenia. What is the campaign about and how can Europe’s football community support it?

Matjaž Krivic

Why has UEFA launched the Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign?

As part of a commitment to compensate for all greenhouse gas emissions generated by its football competitions, UEFA has already guaranteed that the European Under-21 Championships in Hungary and Slovenia – both the group (24–31 March) and knockout (31 May – 6 June) stages – will be carbon-neutral.

The Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign goes further by appealing to the European football community to help make the event carbon-positive. Led by UEFA’s football social responsibility programme, the campaign:

Gives everyone involved in the Under-21 competition, from the competition’s host national associations to players and fans, a chance to reduce emissionssee next question for details.

Increases European awareness of the threat of air pollution to global health and sport.

Cleaner Air, Better Game represents a first step towards achieving UEFA’s long-term goal of making European football more accountable for its impact on the environment and climate.

Last year, UEFA set up a climate action working group to explore how football can better leverage its influence and visibility to play a frontline role in combatting climate change.

UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin: "Poor air quality threatens the long-term health of society and sport. By reaching such a vast audience, football can play an important role in raising awareness of the real and present danger of air pollution – both on and off the pitch."

How will the campaign get the wider football community ‘onside’ in cutting air pollution?

Cleaner Air, Better Game
Cleaner Air, Better Game

Legacy projects in Hungary and Slovenia

UEFA is supporting projects in the competition’s host countries of Slovenia and Hungary that will leave a positive legacy for future efforts to combat air pollution. Both national football associations have committed to plant trees to trap carbon pollution and promote cleaner air. More bikes will also be made available in host cities to encourage people to cycle rather than drive cars during the competition.

Sándor Csányi, President of the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ): "I am very pleased that we have had the opportunity to join UEFA's environmental campaign as one of the hosts of the UEFA Under-21 Championship. I am confident this tournament will be memorable not only for excellent matches but also, thanks to this campaign, for calling public attention to the importance of environmental awareness."

Radenko Mijatović, President of the Slovenian Football Association (NZS): "With these symbolic measures, we are widening responsibility for protecting the environment and supporting green initiatives for the wider football community."

• Ask Under-21 fans to commit to reducing their individual emissions

UEFA is encouraging everyone following its Under-21 competition to reduce their personal emissions by committing to small lifestyle changes on a dedicated UEFA-Count Us In platformsee next question. An aggregator adds up every step taken, using three key data points to calculate impact according to the carbon impact of the steps taken, the number of individuals taking steps and the number of steps taken.

European Union Green Week, 31 May 2021

As a member of the European Climate Pact, UEFA will use the knockout stages of its European Under-21 Championship (31 May – 6 June) to support the European Union's Green Week 2021, dedicated to a 'zero pollution ambition'. The pact invites people, communities and organisations to proactively contribute to the EU's Green Deal – the creation of a European economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign is an official Associate of EU Green Week 2021, with UEFA promoting the week and its activities via its significant communications reach and by organising a climate and environment workshop. This workshop will feature leaders and experts discussing how football can raise awareness to the threat of air pollution and encourage the football community to take steps to help the environment.

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the EC in charge of the Green Deal: "Millions of Europeans love football. Watching it, and playing it. No matter if we are kicking a ball around a green park or on a concrete playground, everyone playing deserves to breathe clean air. As fans and players, our individual choices can help tackle the climate crisis. For example, in choosing how we get to a match.”

The UEFA president announced his organisation’s support for the European Climate Pact in December 2020, pledging to use football’s global reach to raise awareness of the climate emergency and inspire more people to take action to save the planet.

How does the UEFA-Count Us In platform work?

Count Us In is a not-for-profit climate action movement funded by philanthropic donations and supported through pro bono work by more than 75 partners from sport, culture, business and civil society. Like UEFA, all organisations involved in Count Us In are committed to making a significant impact in reducing carbon pollution.

Working with experts from the UN Environment Programme and other partners, Count Us In has developed a group of high-impact steps that people can take to cut their personal emissions to ensure cleaner air. These are based on three criteria:

Impact: actions that drive a major reduction in carbon emissions;
Influence: actions that make politicians and businesses pay attention;
• Involvement
: a set of actions that offer everyone the ability to get involved.

Who can take part?

Everyone can take part!

Football fans
Simply sign up on count-us-in.org, choose the step or steps that are right for you and keep it up! You can track your progress and raise your ambition through your profile and see the collective impact of your actions through the Count Us In aggregator.

Organisations
Your organisation or company can join as a partner and promote Count Us In among its supporters, followers, members, staff and customers.

How will Cleaner Air, Better Game increase the football community’s awareness of the threat of air pollution?

Cleaner Air, Better Game intends to engage the entire football community
Cleaner Air, Better Game intends to engage the entire football community

UEFA will leverage its digital communication channels to inform the millions of football fans following its European Under-21 Championship about the risks of air pollution, both to global health and the game we love.

Host country broadcasters will also play a Cleaner Air, Better Game public service announcement during matches targeting local Hungarian and Slovenian television audiences.

According to European Union data, air quality in 130 European cities does not meet required standards, contributing to over 400,000 premature deaths every year. In total, air pollution accounts for the loss of more than eight million lives annually around the world. Poor air quality is not just a threat to health. It also negatively impacts footballers’ health, with even professional players struggling to perform. Studies show that higher levels of air pollution can slow the pace of matches by up to 15%.

What other organisations are supporting Cleaner Air, Better Game?

As well as Count Us In, several other organisations at the forefront of climate action and environmental protection are supporting Cleaner Air, Better Game:

• The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

Vanessa Pérez-Cirera, WWF Global Deputy Lead for Climate & Energy: "Air pollution is an environmental risk affecting millions of people every year. It has a detrimental impact on climate, nature and our quality of life in general. Everyone can and must do their part to contribute to the transformative change needed to ensure we breathe clean air, have a thriving natural environment and use clean renewable energy. We owe this to our children and their children."

• The European Commission (EC)

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries: "I welcome UEFA’s focus on environmental pollution and its new Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign! When I was a child, my heroes on the football pitch were an inspiration, and I hope this campaign will have a similar effect on our daily lives, pushing us to tackle environmental challenges with meaningful change."

• The United Nations, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

UEFA was among the first signatories of the Sports for Climate Action Framework led by the UNFCCC – an international environmental treaty supported by over 150 nations.

Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (now co-founder of Global Optimism): "Burning fossil fuels for energy and transport is causing climate change and levels of air pollution that are poisonous to us all. Clean, regenerative energy systems are in our grasp, but to accelerate their adoption, we need everyone to step up to the challenge. We are delighted to engage the millions of football fans and hundreds of players across Europe in taking steps to protect what they love."

In what other ways is UEFA raising its game to make European football more climate conscious?

In December 2020, the UEFA president announced his organisation’s support for the European Climate Pact, pledging to use football’s global reach to raise awareness of the climate emergency and inspire more people to take action to save the planet.

Initiatives already implemented by European football’s governing body to reduce the sport’s impact on the environment and emissions include:

Ensuring EURO 2020 will be a carbon-neutral event. The organisation has been offsetting all flights booked for staff, delegates, match officials and others for several years.

Introducing several energy-saving initiatives at UEFA’s environmentally conscious headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. For example, recycling and phasing out the use of plastic bottles to save 39 tonnes of CO2 each year; subsidising UEFA staff’s public transport fares and offering discounts on electric bikes.

Using its HatTrick assistance programme, which channels EURO revenue into football development projects, to support social and environmental initiatives run by all 55 national associations. Currently, UEFA member associations can claim up to €100,000 a year for local environmental initiatives.