With lousy timing, news emerged on Saturday that, in the same week the English Football League launched their environmental sustainability scheme, their Premier League cousins at Manchester United actually flew to their match with Leicester City, rather than go by coach.
A coach travelling the estimated 160km journey between the two cities would emit about 0.26 tons of CO2. Sixty people flying the 10-minute flight in the air, between Manchester Airport and East Midlands Airport (the nearest major airport to Leicester), would collectively emit about 2.6 tons of CO2 or about 10 times as much!
Manchester United’s website boasts about their environmental policy, which promises “to prevent pollution to the land, air or water as a result of our activities”. It also says it will look for ways in which the club can leverage their position to influence their fans’ environmental activities and “encourage them to help us to improve our environmental performance”. And their associated energy policy says it will “monitor energy performance and publish necessary information on progress towards achieving the reduction targets”. But there was no such information to be found anywhere on its website.
But while the team’s ludicrous flight gives a really bad example to the club’s fans, by normalising short-haul flights when the UK faces an existential climate crisis, it is pretty small beer when compared to the impacts of the huge crowds attending their matches. The club website provides information and maps for fans on how to get their cars to Old Trafford’s carparks, but there is nothing there urging them to not bring their cars and to come by bike or public transport instead or, even more importantly, urging them not to drive or fly to away matches.
Then look at the impacts of the food eaten by fans on matchday. 75,000 fans on average attend Manchester United’s home matches. If every fan ate just a single hamburger at each of their 19 home matches, it would emit a staggering 10,970 tons of CO2. This is the equivalent of the electricity emissions for about 14,600 homes for a year, as each home on average emits 0.75 tons. There is nothing on the Manchester United website urging their fans to eat a plant-based lunch on match-day, unlike at business-person Dale Vince’s Forest Green Rovers, which provides only 100 per cent vegan food on matchday.
But the serious carbon emissions kick in when Manchester United plays in the European Champions League, which leads to literally plane loads of fans flying regularly across Europe. If just 30,000 fans flew for just one match per season of the Champions League, to a city such as Berlin from Manchester, it would emit an eye-watering 75,900 tons of carbon or the equivalent annual electricity emissions from 101,000 UK homes.
In defending the flight to Leicester, the club told the BBC that it has successfully reduced its carbon emissions by 2,700 tons per annum since 2008 and has signed up for a green electricity contract for all its premises. But as can be seen when compared to the staggering emissions for the huge numbers of fans attending their Premier League and Champions League football matches, this is a fairly modest if laudable achievement.
With the recent Chatham House Climate Impacts report stating that we now have only an almost impossible 1 per cent chance of not breaching a rise in global temperatures of 1.5C, which would be catastrophic for the UK and the natural world, the writing now has to be on the wall for the Premier League’s business-as-usual model.
The three major changes now urgently needed are pretty straight-forward:
1) Clubs must ensure fans only travel by public transport or active travel to matches
2) Provide only plant-based food on match-day and encourage their fans to make all their match-day food to be plant-based
3) Impose a ban on flying to matches whether at home or abroad.
Or simply put – Manchester United’s football match days must now be car, flight and meat-free!
And the teams need to lead by example. Not only should they be going by coach to matches such as Leicester, but the astronomically well-paid players themselves need to end their culture of elitist show-off consumerism and eye-wateringly polluting private jets. Anything less and they are telling their legions of young fans that they do not care if their adulthood is blighted with a world reeling from extreme floods, wildfires, starvation and mass-migration from the 2040s onwards.
Our future now depends on all of us, including our football teams and their supporters, winning the battle to cut our carbon emissions to net zero well before 2030. So ditch the planes, Man United, and get the bus instead. Time for you to show you have what it takes to help Britain win a global zero-carbon victory, as well as a Champions League final victory!