Despite commitments to address climate change, the ongoing football tournament in Qatar is likely to result in the most greenhouse gas emissions in recorded FIFA World Cup history, sending a grave warning for future outdoor entertainment events and the Arabian Gulf region.
Climate change apparently has proven to be more challenging than many sports organisers anticipated, and lagging efforts worldwide to put words into action only exacerbates the crisis for everyone.
US-based climate research group Climate Central said daily temperatures in the Qatari capital now are over 3 degrees Celsius hotter than normal – an increase that man-induced climate change has made at least twice as likely – posing health risks to athletes, and on-field officials and fans at stadiums, says a press release.
That means the decision to delay the tournament till winter to avoid the scorching summer of the fast warming Persian Gulf region has not provided enough relief and even widespread use of outdoor air conditioning has stumbled to do the job with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius, Climate Central findings indicate.
As a result, heat-related risks to the health and performance of athletes will become a major concern for global sporting events in relatively warmer regions like Australia (host of 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup), heat wave-prone parts of Europe (hosts of 2024 Summer Olympics), and in parts of Mexico, the US, and Canada (hosts of 2026 FIFA World Cup).
Dr Andrew Pershing, director of climate science at Climate Central says "The stress of competing in extreme heat is already affecting more athletes around the world, and climate change is making outdoor sports riskier for both pros [sports professionals] and the rest of us. It will keep getting even riskier, until net greenhouse gas emissions are halted and global temperatures stop rising."
The current host, Qatar, is also of particular concern, as the Persian Gulf region is projected to become a global hotspot for serious and life-threatening humid heat levels. On top of the health risks posed to over a million global spectators expected to descend on the Middle Eastern country by mid-December, the local community and particularly migrant workers, are regularly exposed to heat-related issues.
Recent analysis by the UN's International Labour Organization indicates that outdoor workers in Qatar, mostly from migrant communities, face occupational heat stress during at least four months every year, which may have contributed to mortality risks among migrant workers there in recent years.
Many migrant workers who have been working since 2011 to help build stadiums for the World Cup and relevant infrastructure are also likely among those suffering from heat-related issues.
FIFA anticipates that all activities relating to the 2022 World Cup, from 2011 to 2023, will emit about 3.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents—equal to the annual emissions from over 7,75,000 gasoline-powered cars, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
That's also more than a 70% increase relative to the 2018 World Cup hosted in summer in Russia, and is the highest FIFA-reported World Cup emissions since reporting began in 2010.
Reducing football's carbon footprint will continue to be a priority in the coming decades. In 2018, FIFA signed on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework to reduce FIFA's emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2040. The FIFA Climate Strategy outlines plans to reach these goals.