Fifa misled fans over ‘carbon-neutral Qatar World Cup’, regulator finds

  • Swiss regulator says Fifa made claims that could not be proven
  • Environmental campaigners welcome ruling and call for change

Fifa misled fans by claiming the Qatar World Cup would be carbon neutral, a Swiss regulator has ruled.

A report by the Commission for Loyalty, which regulates advertising in Switzerland, found that Fifa broke rules against unfair competition by making claims about the tournament that could not be proven, while using controversial offsetting measures that would not comply with Swiss standards. Fifa, which is based in Switzerland, has been warned to “refrain” from making such claims again. It said it was considering an appeal.

The verdict is damning for football’s governing body and a victory for environmental campaigners from across Europe. Andrew Simms, director of the New Weather Institute, which submitted a complaint from the UK, said: “Fifa has been found out for using false green claims as a substitute for real climate action. Sport continues to be used as a giant billboard by some of the biggest climate culprits to promote polluting products and lifestyles, threatening the future of athletes, fans and the sport itself. It’s time that sport, and its governing bodies like Fifa, used their power and position to accelerate the low carbon transition, instead of delaying it and misleading the public in the process.”

The message that Qatar would be the “first carbon neutral World Cup” was prominent in the buildup to the tournament, even though estimates pointed to the tournament generating more CO2 than any previous event. Fifa claimed these emissions would either be offset or “compensated’’ for by – for example – the planting of gardens around the stadiums. The Swiss regulator found these claims to be unproven and unprovable.

“In the view of the chamber, the question of whether the promised compensation is truly realistic remains unclear,” the commission’s verdict said. It continued: “Even though [Fifa] repeatedly hints that it will fully offset the emissions to be definitively calculated at a later date, it is unable to provide proof that the estimated emissions have been offset. In addition, it is unclear whether [Fifa’s] offsetting measures comply with Swiss standards, eg the complete and sustainable removal of C02 from the atmosphere.

“It is recommended that the defendant refrain in future from making the disputed allegations, in particular that the 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar would be climate- and C02-neutral, unless it can provide, at the time of disclosure, full proof of the calculation, using generally accepted methods, of all C02 emissions caused by the tournament and proof of the full offsetting of these C02 emissions.”

A Qatar 2022 sign made out of bushes in Lusail, Qatar, during the World Cup.
A Qatar 2022 sign made out of bushes in Lusail, Qatar, during the World Cup. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

A report, published by Carbon Market Watch before the World Cup, was highly critical of Fifa’s claims of carbon neutrality, claiming that the governing body’s plans for offsetting and compensation were “problematic”. The report’s findings were strongly rejected by Fifa at the time. Fifa is a signatory to the UN’s Sport for Climate Framework, an agreement which commits bodies to “immediate action … reflecting the urgency of rapid emissions reductions”.

Frank Huisingh of Fossil Free Football, a Dutch complainant in the case, said: This is a very important decision. Fifa can no longer mislead the world that its World Cup in Qatar was carbon neutral. This should be the moment Fifa begins taking credible climate action, which must start with breaking ties with big polluters, such as their sponsors QatarEnergy and Qatar Airways.

“The next step is a serious plan to reduce the emissions of its tournaments. That includes choosing locations with existing infrastructure, ensuring fans can travel between host cities with low-carbon transport and focusing ticket sales on local fans. Serious climate action by Fifa is long overdue, hopefully this decision pushes them to do better.”

The Swiss commission determined that Fifa’s carbon neutrality claim was acting as “commercial communication” for its tournament.

Fifa said: “Fifa is fully aware that climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time and believes it requires each of us to take immediate and sustainable climate action. Fifa is also fully aware of the impacts that mega-events have on the economy, the natural environment and on people and communities, and has been making substantial efforts to tackle those impacts and, at the same time, to use opportunities to maximise the positive effects of its most iconic tournament, including Qatar 2022. It remains committed to continuously improve its approaches in collaboration with key stakeholders.”


Paul MacInnes

The GuardianTramp

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