The Premier League is the most valuable sports league in the world, with an annual £3.2 billion of revenue generated by broadcasting rights and commercial partnerships. For clubs like Manchester United & Chelsea who fly to domestic games, these costs can be as high as £1 million per match (rising from a total of 101 matches over 38 weeks). Can they afford the environmental damage?
The “british premier league” is one of the most popular sporting leagues in the world. Should clubs stop flying to domestic matches for environmental reasons?
Manchester United were chastised last month for flying fewer than 100 miles to Leicester.
For years, English clubs have routinely flown to Premier League matches.
It is usually the fastest and most convenient alternative, and it allows players and staff to prepare for games as much as possible.
Is it time for that practice to end as global leaders gather at COP26 to try to avert the worst impacts of climate change?
Manchester United sparked uproar in October when they flew from Manchester to Leicester, a distance of around 100 miles and a flight duration of approximately 10 minutes.
The Red Devils were traveling the day before their game and stated they would not ordinarily fly but had to due to “circumstances” Because the M6 road was congested at the time.
The Premier League side’s choice to travel to Leicester was “horrific,” according to Forest Green Rovers owner Dale Vince, whose League Two club is considered as the greenest in the world.
The Old Trafford club, though, is far from alone in taking this route.
Last month, Kalvin Phillips posted an Instagram photo showing Leeds United on an aircraft to Norwich City, a voyage that is expected to take 17 minutes. The host club had designated the match as a game to “promote sustainability principles,” with the Canaries inviting fans to “make tiny modifications to their matchday routine in order to become more sustainable.”
The majority of teams, according to Sport, fly to games at Carrow Road. Despite being publicly chastised in 2015 for flying to East Anglia, Arsenal often employ this approach for trips there.
Tottenham had been chastised by Greenpeace a month before after flying to Bournemouth for a 20-minute journey. external-link
In 2019, Ajax chose to travel the trainexternal-link from the Netherlands to France for a Champions League match against Lille, citing “we live in a climate-conscious period and we want to set a positive example as a club,” according to the club’s chief executive Edwin van der Sar.
“From my standpoint, it’s about having a cohesive football team,” Vince said. “At Forest Green, we value both the environment and football equally, therefore a choice like Manchester United’s would be hard to implement at our club.”
“At other clubs, environment programs are add-ons, and the football side just says it’s more convenient to fly, so that dialogue doesn’t exist.” It suggests such clubs’ environments aren’t effectively integrated.
“Manchester United talks a nice game about the environment and has done some wonderful things, but in that one act, they completely ruined everything. Saying one thing and doing another isn’t enough.”
What is the issue with such short domestic flights?
Burning fuel produces greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide (CO2). These are all factors that contribute to global warming.
According to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, emissions per kilometer flown are much higher than any other mode of transportation, with short-haul flights being the worst polluters.
In April, French legislators approved a measure prohibiting the use of the shortest domestic flights. If passed in a second vote, this would imply that railway lines that take two and a half hours or less will be removed. A similar action is being considered in Spain. external-link
Last month, the Campaign for Better Transport urged the UK government to prohibit domestic flights if the route could be made in less than five hours by rail.
The 348 miles between Newcastle and Brighton is the longest distance between Premier League teams this season.
On a typical Friday (the day before the teams generally play), 12 of the 14 trains leaving Newcastle before 16:00 GMT arrive in Brighton in five hours or less.
The vast majority of away game travel durations would be much shorter. In the instance of Manchester United, the bus travel from Old Trafford to Leicester would typically take two and a half hours, with the train journey taking around the same length of time.
Cutting needless flights, such as those taken by Premier League teams, is a “clear starting point” in the larger task of decreasing fossil-fuel reliant aviation, according to Julian Allwood, a professor of engineering and the environment at Cambridge University.
“We’ve got two generations of inexpensive and widely accessible planes, and that’s transformed our expectations of how far and how quickly we can travel,” Prof Allwood said. “However, if we do nothing about climate change, we will witness global famine in equatorial nations in a generation’s time, and sport will be a distant memory.”
“None of us want to be a part of making it happen.” Accepting somewhat slower travel and lowering distances in order to prevent significant agony seemed to me to be an excellent substitute.
“The government has committed us to zero emissions by 2050, with a 78 percent decrease from 1990 levels by 2035,” says the author. Most of the activities we want to do, including sports, will be unaffected by this.
“However, in order to meet the government’s pledges, we must cut our usage of fossil-fueled airplanes during the next 28 years. In the long run, this will influence all international contests, but in the near term, the apparent first step is to reduce the use of airplanes when there are road or rail alternatives.”
So, why does a team fly to a game?
Chartering an aircraft may cost up to five times as much as leasing a railway carriage for exclusive use, and much more than that when compared to traveling by coach.
Many of these voyages are performed by road or rail; Manchester United, for example, usually travels to London by train.
However, convenience, as well as the pursuit of the finest sports conditions for top athletes, are important considerations.
A shorter aircraft flight is said to be better for a footballer’s physical condition than a lengthier coach one. Furthermore, late kick-offs may make the train an impractical alternative, and the anticipation of long trips may lead to players remaining overnight after a game, restricting training and recuperation time before the following match.
Patrick Bamford, a striker for Leeds United and England, is involved with a sustainable sportswear company and is using his platform to raise awareness of environmental issues. He is also working with Leeds to implement changes at the club, such as the addition of more electric car charging points at the training ground and a change in commercial partners’ behavior.
He confesses to having mixed feelings about traveling to domestic games, such as his club’s October trip to Norwich.
Patrick Bamford credits Marcus Rashford for inspiring him to speak out about the climate catastrophe.
“It’s a tough one since I’m a player first and foremost,” he told Sport. “Ideally, everything we do should be both good for the world and excellent for what we’re doing.” I’m sorry, but I realize it wouldn’t make sense for us to travel on game day, for example.
“Few clubs would intentionally place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. We strive to fly as little as possible at Leeds, I know. To travel to London, we always use the train. We only fly if we have no other options, such as if there are no trains available or if it’s a great distance back, such as to Southampton.”
Matt Konopinski is the director of physiotherapy and performance at Rehab 4 Performance. He was formerly the head of physiotherapy at Liverpool and Rangers. He claims to have heard of teams taking a 30-minute flight to save 90 minutes on a bus ride.
So, how much of a difference does this make to players, if any?
“From a medical standpoint, there are advantages and cons to flying,” Konopinski added.
“Top teams will put speed ahead of everything else, but flying isn’t necessarily a good thing.”
“Yes, if players come in the smallest amount of time, they will be in a better shape. However, we’re just discussing one part of the preparation process. You must also consider when individuals are eating, exercising, and sleeping.
“Anecdotally, hamstring troubles are one of the things we suffer with while flying. I know there’s a widespread belief among physiotherapists that this is only one little part of the puzzle. Another disadvantage is that if a player already has edema in his or her knee, it might be aggravated. This may happen on both short and lengthy trips.”
Coaches may be seen as less luxury, but there are benefits and drawbacks to this kind of transportation, according to Konopinski.
“There are no further transfers on a bus since it is door to door,” he continued. “You may also bring your own chef on board, which is a huge plus.”
“However, prolonged travels might exacerbate lower back problems by making it more difficult to get up and move about.”
Would he be satisfied if his team elected to cease traveling to domestic games if he were at an elite club today, knowing all we know about the environmental effect of flying?
“I’d want to look at the medical evidence,” he added, adding that “there probably isn’t any hard proof either way.”
“Isn’t there a point at which a flight is no longer acceptable? Because there isn’t always a great difference in time from door to door, and the atmosphere is a major role.”
‘Football has to clean up its act.’
The Premier League joined the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework this week, an agreement that encourages organizations and clubs to commit to mitigating climate change’s effects.
In keeping with the 1.5°C global warming target set by world leaders in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the Premier League has vowed to lower 50% of its own emissions by 2030 and attain net-zero emissions by 2040.
“The league will also continue to work with clubs to look at methods to decrease environmental impact and will urge fans and their communities to embrace this action, driving long-lasting behavioural change,” the Premier League said in a statement.
So, is it possible that it will prohibit teams from flying to Premier League games?
Since teams are responsible for their own travel arrangements and the league has no power over them, this does not seem to be a realistic alternative.
However, it has previously given travel recommendations. The Premier League allegedly pushed teams to fly to matches to aid with social separation amid health concerns when top-flight football resumed in June 2020 following a 100-day hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak, with some reportedly chartering numerous flights. external-link
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s top scientific officer, told the external-link BBC on Tuesday that climate change presented a greater threat than the virus, and that behavioural change was required. external-link
Within football, some of this shift has already started. The United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework has four signatories (Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, and Southampton), but none have signed up to the next level of the agreement, which requires organizations to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, be net zero by 2040, and report annually and publicly on progress toward these goals.
Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea recently traveled to their match in bio-fuel-powered coaches, as part of a joint effort by Sky Sports and Tottenham Hotspur to stage a game with zero emissions.
Forest Green’s Vince said, “Our experience teaches us that football is the most fantastic platform.”
“Because of what we stand for, our media reach has been enormous over the last 12 months, with five billion impressions and fan groups in 20 countries across the globe.”
“There is a strong desire among sports fans and environmentalists for a team like this to form and stand for something.”
“Football has to get its act together, and it has a huge capacity to affect people.”
“Are the Premier League teams doing enough with the money they have? No. If we can afford to do what we’re doing, other teams should be able to as well. They also have the most clout and power to influence others.”
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