Should football clubs travel this far for pre-season?

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta with the captain of the club team’s plane to the US for pre-season.

The unrivaled global appeal of the Premier League has seen packed stadiums around the world this summer, with fans spread across several continents getting to see their heroes in real life.

After two years of Covid-restricted travel, most English top-flight clubs have opted to play games abroad on lucrative tours, while some opted for more low-key training camps abroad.

But after calls for sport to use the pandemic as an opportunity to reinstate its role in climate impact, a return to large amounts of air travel has raised questions about the cost to the environment.

Villa top of CO2 emissions

This table shows a BBC Sport estimate of each club’s emissions in order of who has generated the most CO2 from air travel.

BBC Sport has not included emissions from household accessories for the purposes of this comparison, as air travel, mile for mile, is the more harmful way to travel through the environment.

first division teams Air miles flown in preseason C02 emissions per passenger (in Kg) Carbon emissions per soccer team in metric tons
Aston-Villa 22419 2921 87.63
Leeds United 21858 2736 82.08
manchester united 21507 2642 79.29
crystal Palace 22819 2583 77.49
Liverpool 14160 1804 54.12
Tottenham Hotspur 15330 1770 53.1
chelsea 13421 1639 49.17
Arsenal 9808 1247 37.41
manchester city 9505 1123 33.69
Everton 8297 980 29.4
nottingham forest 3258 534 16.02
Newcastle United 3253 460 13.8
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2503 392 11.76
Fulham 2174 349 10.47
A.F.C. Bournemouth 1994 302 9.06
Brighton and Hove Albion 1916 296 8.88
West Ham United 1206 278 8.34
Brentford 1318 269 8.07
Southampton 1548 264 7.92
city ​​of leicester 564 134 4.02
Grand total 178858 22721 681.6
BBC Sport calculations are based on an estimated average of 30 people (players and staff) traveling per club

The club that produced the most CO2 during their pre-season tour was Aston Villa.

Their tour of Australia included games against Leeds United, Brisbane Roar and Manchester United, while Steven Gerrard’s team also flew to France to play Rennes today.

In total, Villa emitted 87.63 metric tons of CO2, which is equivalent to 2,921 kg per passenger, on five flights this summer, with the longest journey from the UK to Brisbane.

Villa’s team’s total carbon emissions figure is the equivalent of driving from London to Manchester 790 times; or a person who flies from London to Los Angeles 136 times; or 17 times the annual emissions of the average UK citizen (before the pandemic).

Leeds, who traveled to Australia to play Brisbane Roar, Villa and Crystal Palace, came in second. His tour resulted in the Yorkshire club emitting 82.08 metric tons over four flights, which is equivalent to 15.8 times the average annual emissions of UK citizens.

Forest Green Rovers owner Dale Vince told the BBC his League One club had an annual footprint of just 70 tonnes last year, meaning it would take almost a decade for them to generate the equivalent emissions.

Some clubs that appear at the bottom of our table, such as Brighton and Bournemouth, flew to Europe for training camps and low-key friendlies.

Brighton COO Paul Mullen told BBC Sport that sustainability was “not a major consideration” in their pre-season plans, but added that the club were in the “very early stages” of developing a strategy “to be a sustainable business.

Mullen told BBC Sport that many clubs will have overseas tours integrated into commercial deals designed to “further extend the brand” in global markets.

He said: “I think there is an expectation to be a good citizen, to be a leader in this and to show good practice where we can but at the same time recognizing our business also brings certain challenges.

“We realize it’s a collective responsibility. The Premier League is developing its own sustainability strategy and I suspect a strategy will come out of that where clubs entering the Premier League have certain minimum commitments that they have to meet as part of that obligation.”

“I think football will always be the driving force in terms of business and we have to realize that and the environment we are operating in, but I think we can align and integrate, enhancing our sustainability and green credentials through that.”

BBC Sport has contacted a number of clubs for comment on how they plan and run their own pre-season tours, rather than the Premier League.

The league, which is registered with the UN Sports Climate Action Framework, has a sustainability strategy that includes sharing best practices with its clubs.

‘Clubs’ climate claims are judged by their behavior

Dr. Russell Seymour, CEO of Basis, the British Association for Sustainable Sport:

“Flying to distant countries for pre-season friendly matches is surely not about preparation for the upcoming season, but about extending the reach of the brand and increasing the fan base and therefore revenue in these countries.

“Interestingly, just six clubs accounted for two-thirds of total CO2 emissions. Two of these clubs were tied for the leaders of the Sport Positive Sustainability League in 2021 and were recognized for the good work they are doing at their own venues.” .

“Air travel is often demonized – its impacts are significant and we as a society should fly less. It is more complex than simply condemning all flying, but clubs must understand that the credibility of their sustainability claims will be judged on their own. more conspicuous aspect. behaviors and actions.

“Football, in particular, has a significant influence on which behaviors are accepted and which are not.

“Ultimately, the decision to embark on a tour in a far away country must meet the vision and values ​​of the club itself and whether, as the impacts of the climate and ecological emergency continue to mount, dovetail with the attitudes and expectations of the public and the club’s own fans”.

Why do clubs fly so much?

The Climate Change Committee, the UK government’s advisor on the subject, has askedexternal link an urgent plan to reduce the number of flights.

Manchester United, another of the biggest emitting clubs this summer, said it “recognizes the impact of international travel on climate change” and has offset its carbon emissions with invest in a reforestation projectexternal link in Western Australia.

carbon compensation it has its critics because it does not help reduce emissions; while the reforestation project that United is investing in becomes more effective only when the trees reach maturity.

A spokesman acknowledged to BBC Sport that “it could be argued that all travel is avoidable”, but added that pre-season tours “provide vital preparation time for players and management ahead of a new season”.

They added: “In addition, they are a significant business opportunity, not only for Manchester United, but also for the wider appeal of English football.”

“That’s why for the first full pre-season tour since the start of the pandemic, we’ve offset the carbon emissions generated by air travel.

“We understand that this does not have an instant impact on the environment, but we are committed to taking the necessary steps to decrease our carbon footprint. We also believe that by continuing to promote this work, we can educate others and help protect our planet.”

Premier League clubs lost a total of £1 billion in revenue during the 2019-20 season and in the first division clubs of Europe, the losses of the two years affected by covid between 2019-2021 were calculated in €7 billion (5,830 million pounds sterling) by the president of UEFA, Aleksander Ceferin.

These losses were due to empty stadiums, a reshuffled schedule, television discounts, and commercial and sponsorship reductions.

Additionally, fans who may not be able to travel to England to see their clubs in action were given the opportunity to attend the matches.

The United spokesman added: “Manchester United is a globally supported football club and while providing the opportunity for our millions of fans around the world to see the team in person, we also recognize the need to do so responsible”.

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How have we calculated the figures?

These BBC Sport calculations are likely to be a very cautious underestimate of the actual figures.

We have not accounted for the unknown amounts of luggage or the likely additional staff on large-scale tours. We have also assumed economy class on commercial aircraft as the base level, while Premier League clubs may have flown:

  • business class, which can increase emissions by a factor of around 2.75*
  • first class, which can increase emissions by a factor of around 7.4*
  • by private jet that multiplies emissions and generates additional flights compared to existing commercial airline routes

We have calculated air miles and emissions using this websiteexternal link – but they haven’t added the multiplication method to capture “peak climate impact” at high altitude, known as “radiative forcing”.

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How sustainable do Premier League clubs claim to be?

Tottenham Hotspur Y Liverpool were the joint clubs in the 2021 Green League – a table that measures the sustainability of the 20 high-level sides. Tottenham players travel to domestic matches on coaches that run on biofuel, reducing emissions from coach travel by more than 80% and Liverpool have committed to decarbonizing fuel by using sustainable aviation fuel in the future, which would also reduce emissions by 80%.

Other clubs have also committed to reducing their emissions.

Brentford also announced last november they would keep the same home jersey for two seasons, saving money and helping the environment.

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BBC Sport sent two journalists to Thailand, Australia and the United States to cover a number of the Premier League clubs for parts of their tours, along with other media outlets and news agencies.

Additional reporting by Dave Lockwood, Sustainability Editorial Director, BBC Sport

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