More than a game: Tactics for reducing a tournament’s carbon footprint


However, UEFA is taking this seriously. Their ESG Strategy is underpinned by data-led initiatives — from climate advocacy to sustainable infrastructure — with the goal for EURO 2024 to be the benchmark for hosting a major tournament sustainably. It will be ‘part of the solution to measure and reduce the impact of football on the environment,’ according to Michele Uva, UEFA Director for Social and Environmental Sustainability. 


The pre-match warm-up: Legacy stadiums, interrailing and Scotland’s fans – the Tartan Army 

Infrastructure: Stadiums

There will be no new stadiums built for EURO 2024, which will limit emissions on infrastructure as much as possible. This is in stark contrast to the carbon footprint of the six permanent stadiums built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with estimates that the emissions linked to their construction totalled 1.6MtCO2e (million tonnes) — roughly three times more than predicted for the whole of EURO 2024.

That said, Germany’s existing portfolio of world class stadiums gave them a considerable home advantage, with relatively little needed to make them ready for the tournament.  

Where potential hosts or co-hosts do not have stadiums that meet UEFA’s infrastructure regulations, sustainability can and should be built into any new stadium projects from the start. Designing infrastructure to use fewer materials and increase efficiency, finding lower carbon material alternatives, and using lower carbon fuels in the construction process are key areas for would-be tournament hosts. 

Energy used on matchday

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reduce the carbon footprint for a large-scale event like EURO 2024. It can be reduced however, through a combination of measures including waste and water management systems, efficient lighting systems, and where geographically appropriate, onsite energy generation.  

The goal that clubs and organisers should be aiming for is to run on 100% renewable energy, generated on site where possible. This is already happening at some stadiums, including the world's second largest photovoltaic installation on a stadium at SC Freiberg’s Europa Park, where installation of 2.4-MWp solar power system has started.

Fan travel

The Öko-Institut, a German environmental research institute, has predicted that EURO 2024 will create 490,000 tCO2e. Transport is the major contributor, with just under 70% of the overall figure.

It is an inescapable fact that fans travelling from across the world to a major sporting event will create a large carbon footprint. A multi-layered approach is needed to reduce this impact by encouraging the use of rail and buses over cars and flights.

Thirty-six hours of free local transport for the 2.8 million match-day tickets at EURO 2024, alongside heavily discounted intercity rail tickets and international rail tickets, will significantly reduce emissions linked to fan travel during the tournament. Reducing the impact of fans travelling to Germany from their home countries across Europe is more of a challenge.

The first match of EURO 2024 is Germany against Scotland in the Allianz Arena in Munich. German fans travelling by train to their opening match in Munich using free matchday travel will only produce 41g of CO2 equivalent per passenger on average. It is more complex for the Scotland’s ‘tartan army.’

Up to 200,000 Scottish fans are predicted to make the trip to Munich, while only 10,000 have tickets to the match. The Öko-Institut only accounted for 9,000 additional fans in their estimates, leaving a significant gap in the expected emissions linked to supporters in and out of the stadium. Due to cost and time, these additional fans are likely to fly from Scotland to Germany despite discounted international rail travel, leading to approximately 83,000 tCO2e being produced for the roundtrips.

Hidden emissions like this must be considered for a clear picture of what the carbon footprint of an event will be. National football federations need to work more closely together and be even more ambitious with their incentives for less emissions intensive travel. This could include further discounts and an increased number of services for international train travel and coach or bus services. 


The 90 minutes: Biofuel, conscious wardrobes and bratwurst

Player travel 

Team transport on matchday has an important symbolic role for a carbon reducing tournament. EURO 2024 has been planned to minimise team travel, working with sponsors Deutsche Bahn (DB) to make specific arrangements for national teams to travel by rail between matches. In a significant shift from EURO 2016 in France where out of more than 72 team transfers to matches, over 75% were flights, UEFA predicts that only 25% of teams will travel to their group stage games via plane during EURO 2024.

But it has been well documented that only Germany, Switzerland and Portugal have pledged not to fly at all to their group games, even though choosing to travel to games by rail or road can reduce carbon emissions by 95%. This shows the task at hand to instil climate action among our leading football teams.  

Football teams at club and international levels can and should act on short haul flying. Small steps are being taken, including Dutch team Ajax opting to take a train to a European away game against Lille in 2019. However, these are exceptions rather than the rule and a clear culture shift is required to combat the emissions hotspot of domestic flights for top clubs.  


The kits worn by our teams and fans can also be emblems of positive change. Materials chosen by kit manufacturers play a role, with a shirt made from polyester, as most modern football kits are, having double the carbon footprint of a cotton shirt. However, it’s unlikely we’ll see Frenkie de Jong or Florian Wirtz playing in a cotton shirt anytime soon due to the complexities and demand needed to shift existing supply chains towards more sustainable models.    

Football teams and shirt manufacturers alike can take inspiration from the Japanese Olympic team’s jackets, which feature embedded labels showing the 8.8kgCO2e emitted in production. As EU regulatory changes further demand that sustainability claims are objective and independently verified, football clubs should follow Japan’s lead by clearly and transparently footprinting and labelling their merchandise.

As with all clothing, reducing the amount produced in the first place is inevitably the most efficient way to reduce emissions and waste. If national football teams staggered the release of their kits to cover more than one tournament, this would significantly reduce their environmental impact. At a club level this is even more acute, where home, away, third and training kits are replaced every year at the top teams. Critically, a multi-season model for kits would reduce both the number of kits purchased by fans, and the emissions associated with the merchandised element of the game.


A reduced emissions diet relies upon the increased consumption of plant-based food. UEFA will report on the percentage of vegetarian and vegan options served throughout the tournament as part of a post tournament carbon footprint, with estimates that each matchgoing fan will consume 0.7 kgCO2e in food and drink every game.

Importantly, emissions associated with food and drink are linked to onsite energy demands, due to preparation, storage and distribution. This brings the food and drink emissions close to 10% of all the emissions likely to be created in the ’fan zones’.

To bring down emissions before a ball is kicked, suppliers can assess the potential impact of food loss from the supply chain, where currently almost a third of food is lost or wasted. Single-use items should also be eliminated in favour of reusable alternatives or deposit return schemes, with biodegradable items collected in the appropriate waste stream.

Clear labelling of food’s CO2e impact can help consumers make informed choices for less carbon intensive products, for example showing that vegan bratwurst produces 30% less CO2e than a pork bratwurst


Off the pitch: UEFA's Climate Fund and emissions management

Addressing carbon emissions off the pitch, UEFA’s Climate Fund will allocate €25 for every tonne of CO2 emissions produced as part of EURO 2024. Pre-tournament projections suggest this will amount to approximately €7 million.

These funds will support environmental projects managed by amateur football clubs across Germany, focusing on energy, water, waste management, and smart mobility.  

This initiative reflects UEFA's commitment to tackle unavoidable emissions through climate investments. It also supports the development of a sustainability conscious grassroots game. This application of a carbon price to local climate projects presents less risk than total investment in the offsets market. UEFA is pioneering a comprehensive emissions assessment after the tournament, informed by the ex-ante climate study by the Öko-Institut. This publicly accessible data collection is unprecedented for large-scale sporting events and is a vital transparent resource for future event planning. Accurate data for categories such as fan transport is also possible through the link between the match-day tickets and public transport networks.  

A significant carbon footprint linked to the movement of fans, players, merchandise, and business is inevitable for EURO 2024, but the work to implement actual emissions reduction measures supported by high quality data and a structured targeting of key emissions hotspots is significant. So too is UEFA’s commitment to Net Zero by 2040, under the Race to Zero, which will rely on transparent action plans and robust near-term targets.

Football is a team game and reducing the carbon footprint of major tournaments must be too. National teams, clubs, and governing bodies all have a responsibility to educate and act, working together to accelerate the transition to Net Zero while protecting the unifying power that international events like EURO 2024 can have.