So last night was the UEFA Champions League Final between Manchester United and Chelsea. The neutral venue for these two English teams to play was not somewhere geographically sensible like Northampton, but Moscow. As in Moscow, Russia.
The distance from London to Moscow for Chelsea fans to travel was a mere 2498km each way, whereas the Manchester United fans had to travel 2551km, meaning that both sets of fans had about a 5000km round trip, almost exclusively achieved via commercial flights.
According to the BBC over 40,000 English football fans made this voyage to watch their team contest the final of Europe’s premier club tournament.
Flying from London to Moscow and back is estimated to emit around 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The effect of releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at the height a plane travels at is believed to have a radiative forcing – or total effect on the climate – of 2.7 times higher than had the carbon dioxide been released at ground level. This means that the effect that each passenger has is equivalent to 4.05 tonnes of carbon dioxide released at ground level.
Now if we multiply that figure by the 40,000 fans (which according to the BBC’s figures is a conservative estimate) we end up with 162 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent being emitted by a bunch of football fans going to watch one match. This is more than the annual carbon dioxide emission of the whole of Chad, a country with over 10 million citizens whose annual emissions of CO2 are a mere 125 000 tonnes .
Writing this, has been a massively immiserating experience for me as an activist. I don’t fly for personal reasons, well currently I don’t fly at all, but there are activist related causes for which I would fly, and I certainly don’t believe that aid workers shouldn’t be flown to Burma and China for fear of their environmental impact. However when events such as last night’s pass not with sadness and reflection, but with celebration throughout all sections of the media here I am left to wonder what effect I can possibly have that would even begin to counteract the actions of British football fans over the last week.
A second thought I had about the Champions League final was more about the kind of culture surrounding the sport. At full time the game was tied, one team had dominated the first half, the other dominated the second half. This led to extra time being played, again the teams were evenly matched, one team hit the crossbar, the other team had a shot cleared off the line by a defender. And so the tied game went to penalties. Chelsea were poised to win the game, when their captain unfortunately slipped and sliced his penalty wide. Moments later and another Chelsea penalty was saved and Manchester United had won.
It all seemed entirely ridiculous. The teams were so evenly matched that they could not be separated. Even after extending the duration of the game. They both played well. Yet the rules dictate that one must win and the other must lose, so after comprehensively drawing at football, an entirely arbitrary extra is added to decide which team is the winner. And right on cue, the winners cheered danced and sang, while the losers cried on the pitch distraught at… Having drawn? Having been equally good at the game they play? No they were distraught because they had ‘lost’. But what does that mean? Their name doesn’t get etched on a bit of silver. Big deal, millions of people all over the world had enjoyed watching them demonstrate their proficiency at their chosen game. Shouldn’t they be proud of how well they had done, of all they had achieved?
In a zero sum culture, we are taught that what is important is winning; defeating and vanquishing the ‘other’ is what is necessary. What is not important is having an enjoyable game, working together with all sides for any greater good. The idea that if we work together then everyone can be a winner is refused as an unfortunate leftover from the bygone era of socialist ideology. The black and white winners and losers scenario however fits perfectly with a culture dedicated to competitive individualism, to a society where we are brought up told to do what we can to get ahead in the rat race, and for us to be ‘winners’, we need to accept that others will be ‘losers’.
One of the consequences of living in such a culture is that the long term effects of our competitive individualism and consumer excesses are that resource depletion and climate change will multiply the woes of the hundreds of millions of humans who have already been impoverished by the legacy of colonialism and industrial capitalism. But in a world where we are told to look after number one, it shouldn’t be surprising that rich football fans have more of an environmental impact in a few days than 10 million people will in a year.