Employing mechanisms such as carbon offsetting, solar panels and stadiums that have been granted certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental design, FIFA boasted that this “Copa Verde”, would be the greenest World Cup ever. Instead, it’s proving to be environmentally unsustainable on several levels, marking a shift in how global sporting events should be built and marketed. As a result, questions must be asked about why more isn’t being done to combat the environmental impact of this international sporting event.


The endangered Brazilian three banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) was the inspiration for the 2014 World Cup mascot, “Fuleco”. Unlike most armadillos, this species is not adapted to digging and living underground, and protects itself by rolling into a ball, making it an ideal football mascot. This endangered species, chosen to represent FIFA’s dedication to the environment, has been the centre of much controversy. FIFA have made no direct relationships with any conservation bodies or NGO’s, with the only effort made towards protecting this endangered species coming from a commercial affiliate of the World Cup. Fuleco is set to generate thousands of dollars in revenue for FIFA as the cute symbol on all official merchandise for the event, with none of the profits going towards any form of conservation programme for the vulnerable species. The controversial move has prompted 28,000 people to sign a petition calling for FIFA to commit to providing resources for the conservation of these armadillo.

Although FIFA’s intentions in choosing a species that’s been on the ICUN endangered list for over 12 years as a mascot is admirable, little can be said about the efforts taken by FIFA to contribute to the conservation of this species. Some positivity can be drawn from this, in that FIFA’s actions, or lack there of, have prompted the Brazilian government to develop and fund a conservation plan for this vulnerable species.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

Another bone of contention has been FIFA’s attempt to produce environmentally innovative stadiums. The new venues built to host the 2014 matches display innovative structures, which are designed to promote airflow and provide shade while maximising natural light. They also focus on utilising water conservation and waste reduction features. Two of the twelve venues are solar powered, which boast the ability to produce around 2.5MW of energy, which is more solar energy than the national total for 11 of the 32 competing nations. With the huge level of investment undertaken by FIFA into creating these sustainable stadiums and utilising renewable energy resources, many have been quick to question the necessity of sustainably powered stadiums in some of the most remote regions of the world.

Take for example Manaus, a city that is located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, with poor accessibility. The Arena da Amazonia, which seats 41,000 spectators and will host four World Cup matches, is located in a town where local football matches draw crowds of around a thousand people. The post-World Cup cost for this stadium’s upkeep is $250,000 a month, something many critics fail to see possible for such a small city. The Brazilian government have justified the construction of this stadium by stating that the attraction will increase tourism in the area. Many others have questioned whether or not transporting tonnes of construction materials up the Amazon and building this stadium in such a remote location may well be causing more harm than good.

Carbon Footprint

In the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, FIFA produced a strict carbon-counting scheme to estimate the emissions resulting from the preparation and staging of the event. They published a report, Summary of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Carbon Footprint, in May 2013. It reported the methodology used to calculate carbon emissions and the total carbon footprint the estimated for the event. Both direct and indirect emissions related to World Cup were accounted for in this report. This covered areas such as transportation of people to and from the matches, accommodation, organisation logistics of the event, and venue construction, to name a few.

The total carbon emissions relating to the 2014 World Cup was estimated to exceed 2.7 million tonnes. This is the equivalent of the emissions emitted from 975,986 tonnes of waste sent to landfill or 374,553 homes’ electricity use for one year. It is also the equivalent of the carbon sequestered from over 2 million acres of forest in a year. FIFA has committed to offset 100% of these emissions, which will cost in the region of $2.5 million, only a mere fraction of what FIFA stand to make from this World Cup. The mechanisms FIFA plan to use to recover these emissions will not be announced until next year, but may come in the form of financing reforestation in Brazil or the construction of large wind farms.

Final Thoughts

While FIFA’s attempts environmental consciousness in Brazil have been commendable, the lack of impact Fuleco has had in conserving his species and the giant stadiums that may now lie empty in the remote parts of Brazil are disappointing results for both Brazil and FIFA. Furthermore, while FIFA have committed to compensate and offset the emissions produced as a result of the World Cup, the strength of this commitment is something that is yet to be seen. FIFA have taken a step in the right direction towards creating an environmentally conscious event, however, there is far more that can, and should, be done in the future.

In my opinion, questions still surround the necessity of such large events in a time where carbon sequestration, environmental protection measures and climate change adaptation and mitigation schemes are at the top of global agenda. In the run up to the 2016 Olympics, and future global sporting events, I believe policy makers at large need to look towards taking a unified approach towards staging these events in an attempt to minimise environmental impacts as much as possible.

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