Speaking from his home city of Ljubljana, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin underlines European football’s commitment to ensuring sport plays a frontline role in protecting the planet.
Article top media content
UEFA’s Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign reached its climax with a high-level workshop on Monday, where President Aleksander Čeferin emphasised the pilot initiative was a first step toward making European football more accountable for its impact on the environment and climate.
“Cleaner Air, Better Game is part of UEFA and European football's wider commitment to the European Green Deal, and the European Climate Pact. We are ready to do everything in our power to help achieve the European Union’s vision of a climate-neutral economy by 2050,” said Mr Čeferin, addressing the event’s participants, who included Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmerman, together with leading environmentalists and scientists.
“We have seen just recently when our European model of sport came under threat – when we stand together, we are a formidable force! I am confident that we can direct that same force to protect our planet and our game. Each of us has a big role to play in this important match,” added the UEFA President.
The workshop marked EU Green Week by discussing football’s potential as a force for change in fighting climate change and assessing lessons learned from Cleaner Air, Better Game – a pilot initiative which has raised awareness of air pollution during the group (24-31 March) and knockout (31 May-6 June) stages of the European Under-21 Championship in Hungary and Slovenia.
Other participants included UEFA’s Director for Football and Social Responsibility, Michele Uva, Lučka Kajfež Bogataj, Slovenia’s Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist, former professional footballer and environmental activist Mathieu Flamini and Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu, the Sport for Climate Action lead at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Making European football greener
UEFA underlined its commitment to making European football greener by appointing a new Director for Football and Social Responsibility, Michele Uva, at the start of 2021. Under Uva’s guidance, the governing body is developing four policies relating to environmental protection, event sustainability, a circular economy and infrastructure sustainability, each with measurable 10-year goals.
“We are in the process of developing our sustainability policy,” said Uva at the workshop, “Our aspiration is to become a platform for dialogue and action, engaging all the members of our football family.”
Here is a brief overview of what the panellists had to say about the growing threat of climate change, both to sport and society, as well as the tactics football will need to adopt to win potentially its "biggest match" - whether by raising awareness or directly contributing to change.Read more about the Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign: its objectives, supporters and legacy
Football’s biggest match: understanding the challenge
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin: "I must admit that only recently did I fully realise the magnitude of the problem of air pollution. We knew it was affecting the health of players and safe playing environments, and we have treated this problem with utmost seriousness related to health, safety, and medical protocols and standards."
"I find it worrying to think that the children and youth of the world – and my own children among them - are growing up and playing football in an environment that might be risking and damaging their health due to air pollution."
Michele Uva, UEFA’s Director of Football & Social Responsibility: "We must be realistic and find a balance between topics where football can make a direct impact and those where our influence is more indirect. UEFA cannot go from 100 to zero overnight. Making football more accountable for its climate and environmental impact will take time, not least, to build up our technical expertise in a new field."
Frans Timmerman, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission: "The game of football can play such an incredible role. I believe we can inspire so many young people who normally would perhaps not be reached through education, but who can be reached by their heroes, the football players. We can inspire a whole generation to take us to a cleaner future."
Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu, the Sport for Climate Action lead at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): "Climate change is a big problem, it is not just up to sports to solve it, nobody can do it on their own, but I think the idea here is for people to know that if everyone does not do their part in terms of addressing environmental impact, that means that we’ll not be able to achieve the 1.5 degree, which will allow us to keep the planet safe for future generations, for the future of sports and for the future of our kids."
Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of UNFCCC: "We know that athletes who are training or competing in air polluted stadiums, cities or at home cannot perform at their top level."
Lučka Kajfež Bogataj, Slovenia’s Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist: "Climate change is here to stay and it will impact every aspect of our lives, not just sports."
Setting out the tactics
Aleksander Čeferin: "By reaching millions of people every day, football has the potential to raise awareness on these threats – which is a critical first step to getting everyone involved. Football has never failed to inspire, and we are confident that our joint voice will be heard again – the voice of our national associations, the voice of our clubs, the voice of our leagues, the voice of our fans, the voice of our players, the voice of our coaches, referees, and other match officials, but also the voice of our sponsors, and partners who have proved over the years how committed they are to football."
Michele Uva: "One very concrete new action we are working on is the ’UEFA Sustainability Event Management System, which has the key objectives of monitoring our events and anticipating future trends. This system should become operational soon. If the pilots are successful, we will be looking to scale it to all events across UEFA’s 55 Federations."
Mathieu Flamini, former professional footballer and environmental activist: "I’m really excited about the aspect that UEFA is taking the lead. UEFA will have to work closely with the clubs, because the clubs really have the desire to drive change, to become better at what they do."
Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu: "Sports can help with the goals of the Paris agreement in two ways: by doing what they can to reduce environmental impact but, at the same time, use their power to inspire fans and athletes around the globe to do the same.
"Practically we need to do all we can to phase out fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy cources. We need to find better ways to move around and football can create demand for a more sustainable transport. We need to reduce waste, we need to improve our diets and we need to make our buildings and businesses greener."
Lučka Kajfež Bogataj: "I think that UEFA should also promote equity, because it is an important part of climate action. We all know that many poor people cannot change things, but very rich ones don’t want to change, so equity is something that I think should be pushed."
Building a winning team
Michele Uva, on UEFA’s development of a 10-year strategy focusing on environmental protection, event sustainability, a circular economy and infrastructure sustainability: "We are in the process of developing our sustainability policy Our aspiration is to become a platform for dialogue and action, engaging all the members of our football family.
"I am also very excited about the innovative plans for EURO Germany 2024, which we hope will showcase what a formidable partner football can be for the environment. Whatever action UEFA takes, we will achieve nothing by by working alone. Issues like climate change and air pollution pose global questions, whose answers will never lie with any one institution."
Frans Timmerman: "We can all reduce our carbon footprint, we can all improve the air quality around us using the best available scientific evidence. We, at the European Commission, want to work closely with UEFA to translate that into things associations and clubs can do to demonstrate that they’re part of this transformation and, by doing that, inspire every individual citizen to do the same thing."
Kajfež Bogataj: "On one side, we should inspire individuals to change their lifestyle, to follow a new path to somehow make climate action be considered a normal part of our life. On the other hand, we have to also work together like good teams do, like other organisations or nations do."
Lindita Xhaferi-Salihu: "UEFA is a founding signatory of UN Sports for Climate Action which was built to put climate action on the agenda of sports. So, there’s a platform for sports to come together and learn from each other and really scale the efforts that are already underway."
Aleksander Čeferin: "European football family is well known for its unity in times of trouble. And, as we have seen just recently when our European model of sport came under threat – when we stand together, we are a formidable force! I am confident that we can direct that same force to protect our planet and our game. Each of us has a big role to play in this important match."