COP26 Event Proves Scottish Football is Slowly But Surely Waking Up to the Climate Crisis

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Some of Scottish football’s leading figures attended a special COP26 debate this week to ‘rethink, reimagine and redesign a greener game’.

Their aim? To make the sport more environmentally sustainable for the clubs and the fans both now and in the years to come.

On the panel at the Strathclyde University gig was Chris Gaunt (Finance Director, Hibernian FC), Andy Smith (Chairman, Scottish Football Supporters Association), Norman Gill (Chief Operating Officer, Street Soccer Scotland), Eva Ralston (Captain, Strathclyde University Women’s Football Club), and Iain McMenemy (Chairman, Stenhousemuir FC).

Each member of the panel was subject to a Q&A from the audience as well as questions from the host, Wolfgang Blau (Co-Founder of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network).

So, what exactly was said at the event? And what plans are in place to tackle our game’s enormous carbon footprint?

Sustainability Promises

Hibernian FC is one of Scottish football’s biggest names. They have four Scottish League titles, three Scottish Cups, and three Scottish League Cups in the trophy cabinet. But one of their most important achievements in recent years is being officially named ‘Scotland’s Greenest Football Club’ due to their off-the-field work, and battling the downsides of having a stadium like Easter Road, according to Chris Gaunt:

“Easter Road is a very historic stadium, a huge stadium in the middle of Leith. The thing about it being historic though is that it was built in a time period where sustainability wasn’t very well thought out, so it’s not insulated very well. So, an energy audit is something we’ve kicked off now to see what the small changes are that we can make.  

“Easter Road” by mariancraig is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

“It can be something as easy as putting timers on lights or the heating, just to make those small little changes, but there’s also just an opportunity with the size of the stadium and what we can do to do it. One of the things we’re really keen on being given the go-ahead – and it’s been signed – is that we’re going to be putting solar panels on our East Stand and our Training Centre. 

“This will allow us to save money because the energy costs over this past year have just exploded, so if we can lock in this fixed power purchase agreement, it will allow us to lower our costs too which would be great”. 

Iain McMenemy believes other clubs should follow suit with this and outlined his plans at the event to propose to the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) and the Scottish Football Association (SFA) that a central figure be employed as a Sustainability Officer for Scottish football.

Food Waste and Meat-Free Options

This time in response to the reportedly large carbon footprint at Easter Road, Gaunt said: “It is a big footprint, but we’ve actually just signed an agreement with the Too Good To Go app. Essentially all the food at the end of a game, if we have any extra pies or Bovril, if you wanted then you can sign up and buy a mystery box that will allow you to take home all the excess stuffand that allows us to hopefully limit the waste that we have there”. 

Clubs across the country have also begun offering vegan and vegetarian options on matchdays. Celtic launched their ‘Hoops and Roots’ vegan kiosk at Celtic Park in February 2020, with Hampden offering a similar stall at the National Stadium. Kilmarnock, famously known for their ‘Killie Pie’ launched a Vegan Pie in 2019, and Greenock Morton became the first club in Scotland to take meat completely off the menu in November 2020. There are many more clubs across the country that have also begun these changes.

Time For Fans to Adapt

Andy Smith believes fans ‘are ready for change more than ever’, but thinks clubs and governing bodies have to be honest to get them fully on board.

He said: “We have to tell them (fans) why. We have to take them with us, we have to keep it transparent so it’s not ‘here’s new laws’. Until recently, to fight the pandemic we had a thing called the Joint Response Group set up between our footballing authorities and our government. Go online and find a report of any meeting they’ve had, there’s none. It’s all done behind closed doors.  

“So, what football should do now, I think, is to do it in the full public eye and light and tell people ‘if you’re going to travel to Aberdeen to see Hibs vs Aberdeen at Pittodrie, take the train and here’s the deal’. That’s learning, and we have to learn together because the future is very different from the past”.

“Aberdeen Train station” by jwolson is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

But Smith also thinks ‘football is conflicted’ and lacks leadership in times like these. He added: “Football doesn’t have leadership because it is self-interested. FIFA is self-interested, UEFA is self-interestedthey’re up to their necks in Gazprom. They don’t even sell to consumers; they sell to Governments”.

Such drama tends to follow Gazprom in this footballing discussion. After all, they are the largest publicly-listed natural gas company in the world. But in recent years, they too have cut greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to reduce negative environmental impacts.

Education

Norman Gill, whose organisation Street Soccer Scotland (SCS) is partnered with Scotrail to promote environmentally friendly travel, aims to tackle the climate crisis with ‘education’:

“Many of them (SCS players) are struggling, some of them get up in the morning and the only thing they want to know is where they’re going to sleep tonight. Some of them get up in the morning and have to decide whether they’re going to heat or eat. And there are various levels and versions of that, that goes on. Some struggle with addiction who are worrying about whether they can walk past William Hill in the morning to get a loaf of bread.

“So, climate change is not high on their agenda. It’s way down their agenda. Many of our players we also do various qualifications with and a lot of the education is things which certainly I picked up from my parents and from schooling. But if you dropped out of school or your relationship with your parents isn’t good then you don’t pick that up.

“We’re talking about budgeting, simple things like housekeeping and gatekeeping. Climate change could be part of that but there’s no parent to pass it on. So, we have a big role to try and bring people on that journey, and that’s something we’re going to do quite soon”.

Fighting and Using Voice for Change

Eva Ralston knows the struggles climate change can have on football from a week-to-week basis. The SUWFC captain says ‘no footballer enjoys’ turning up to discover a game is cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch or training in excessive heat. But she believes people in the game can make positive changes to raise awareness:

Football is a universal game and I think with the influence it has over the world, whether its fans, clubs, players or officials – anyone affiliated with a club – we have to be able to use that platform to encourage anyone to change the slightest thing in the world to make it that little more sustainable”.

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