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FIFA World Cup 2014: environmental friend or foe?

"One of the key objectives through the 2014 FIFA World Cup is to use the event as a platform to communicate the importance of the environment and ecology"

While FIFA boast of the most environmentally friendly World Cup ever, with solar-powered stadia and carbon offsetting for every match, critics demand to know why more isn't being done to reduce the impact of such a huge event, both to Brazil's native habitats and to the world at large.

Fuleco the endangered armadillo 

Fuelco, the 2014 World Cup
Mascott, a Brazilian 3 banded armadillo.
Source: Acaatinga.rog
Almost 28,000 people have signed a petition calling for FIFA to commit to the conservation of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus), the inspiration for the 2014 World Cup mascot 'Fuleco'. Conservationists at the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) were initially thrilled that the armadillo, which is classified as "Vulnerable", would be the centre of the most environmentally friendly tournament so far, attracting money for sustainable development in Brazil.

Sadly Fuleco, whose name is a combination of the Portuguese words futebol (football) and ecologia (ecology), has done little to help his brothers in the wild. So far only one of the tournament sponsors, Continental Tyres, has donated money to protect the armadillo. Nothing but empty words have come from FIFA and its $2 billion World Cup profit. 

Striving for sustainability

FIFA have been keen to promote their environmental sustainability strategies in other areas however, which are impressive at first glance. The new and improved stadia are designed to promote air flow and provide shade whilst maximising natural light. Two of the twelve venues are solar-powered, with water conservation and waste reduction features that led to all stadia receiving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. FIFA also recently pledged to offset 331,000 tonnes of carbon, including 80,000 tonnes from fans who entered a contest to make their travel carbon neutral. 
The Brazilian three-banded armadillo is one of two
species that can roll itself into a tight ball. Source: BBC
Unfortunately FIFA's proposals aren't nearly enough. According to the ABC, the huge scale of travel and accommodation required for the 3.7 million visitors means the actual impact is likely to be around 1.4 million tonnes of carbon. This was further compounded by the failed rejuvenation of Brazil's dilapidated public transport systems, which left many fans relying on private taxis to get them to the games. These problems have left many skeptics asking whether FIFA's proposals were just greenwashing over the bigger issues.

Empty stadia

Among the criticisms is the question of longevity. Once the fans leave, what will become of the facilities left behind? The International Business Times reports that Brazil spent almost $4 billion on its World Cup infrastructure, but many of the stadia are located in cities with lower division football teams. When the World Cup visitors leave, matches played by local teams are likely to draw only a tiny fraction of the number of fans needed to fill the seats. 

The Arena da Amazônia in Manaus. Source: Wikimedia 
One of the best (or worst) examples is Manaus, a city of almost two million people located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Its remote location and poor access roads meant that during the building of the new Arena da Amazônia, materials were transported by ship from Portugal. According to the New York Times, the heat and humidity meant workers spent days connecting each steel joint together

And after all that effort, only four World cup games are being played there! 

The stadium seats 41,000 fans (the majority of whom have to reach the city by boat or plane), which is fantastic for the World Cup but when the games are over, how will the local teams (whose recent games have drawn around 1000 spectators) ever hope to generate the approximately $250,000 a month required for its upkeep? Was it all just a waste of time, money and resources?

Wider impacts

The Brazilian government have justified extravagance like the Manaus stadium by stating that the attraction will bring more tourists to the area. Manaus is often the starting point for visitors drawn to the fantastic Amazon rainforest and the government hopes that their eco-tourism will do a lot for the local community, the economy and the national sustainability targets. 

Have FIFA done enough to ensure that the World Cup is eco-friendly? Their carbon offsetting and solar-powered stadia have been somewhat counteracted by the poor public transport, Fuleco's lack of impact for conserving his native Caatinga forest, and the gigantic venues that may lie empty after the final. I think the organisers have done enough to earn some bragging rights, but in a time where sustainability is so important they could and should have done more.
This blog is written by Sarah JoseCabot Institute, Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Sarah Jose

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