Jessie Fleming of Chelsea FC Women and Sofie Junge Pedersen of Juventus compete at Allianz Stadium in Turin, Italy on Oct. 13, 2021. Valerio Pennicino / Getty Images
Founded in 2005 as an Ohio-based environmental newspaper, EcoWatch is a digital platform dedicated to publishing quality, science-based content on environmental issues, causes, and solutions.
Soccer (football) players competing in the Women’s World Cup have organized to take climate action over flying to and from the tournament locations in Australia and New Zealand. The campaign is the biggest of its kind in the history of the sport.
The climate action is led by Sofie Junge Pedersen, a player for Denmark, and includes 44 players and counting who plan to offset their flight emissions as well as donate to other climate initiatives. The participants hope to have at least 50 campaigners by the start of the World Cup on July 20.
“For about five years I have paid for carbon offsetting or compensated for flying, because unfortunately it is difficult to avoid in my job,” Pedersen wrote in The Guardian. “I have always felt bad because I know how much pollution a flight causes. I have felt it was something I wanted to do and something that is good for the planet, although we realise it is not the solution.”
Pedersen performed a climate change presentation to teammates in Denmark and Juventus Football Club last year, which led to the idea of offsetting flights to the World Cup. The teams were supportive, so they took the idea to Common Goal, a collective football movement for equality and sustainability, and the nonprofit Football for Future.
From there, players Jessie Fleming, a midfielder for Canada, and Elena Linari, a defender for Italy, inspired other soccer players to take on the initiative and create a global campaign.
“This is a topic I feel passionate about, and I hope this action my teammates and I are taking accelerates the climate conversation and sets a precedent for what athletes can do to push for more environmental policies in football,” Fleming told The Guardian.
The players are starting their campaign by donating to climate resiliency, carbon offsetting and climate adaptation actions as a short-term solution. Participants use scientific methodology to calculate the carbon emission tonnage of their World Cup-related flights, then donate money to initiatives by WWF Australia, WWF New Zealand and DanChurchAid.
In her letter on The Guardian, Pedersen noted that the campaigners realized they weren’t saving the world, and that flights need to be made more sustainable as a long-term solution. But the campaign participants hoped to become an example to fans of how to take even just one action for a more sustainable future.
The participants of the campaign also hope to influence officials to consider carbon emissions when bidding for tournament locations.
“There’s currently no sustainable solution for the environmental cost of air travel,” Elliot Arthur-Worsop, founder of Football For Future, said in a statement. “Governing bodies need to acknowledge the impact that their tournaments have on the natural world and introduce carbon considerations as key criteria in the bidding process for hosting future tournaments.”
The 2022 Men’s World Cup claimed to be a carbon-neutral event, but an analysis found that the advertising amounted to greenwashing, primarily because the organizers didn’t include stadium construction in evaluating emissions and impact. Stadiums in previous World Cup events were built over vulnerable wildlife habitats. Then, there are all of the flights that organizers, players, and fans take to get to the events.
“The 2026 Men’s World Cup is predicted to be the most carbon intensive event in the history of the beautiful game, with travel representing 85% of total emissions,” Arthur-Worsop said. “This trajectory is not compatible with a healthy planet for future generations, let alone the future of football. Things need to change, and the 2030 World Cup host selection is a perfect moment for FIFA to make a meaningful statement.”