In the section Grandstand sounds Voetbalzone turns the tables and gives the reader the opportunity to publish an opinion piece, column or other interesting article about football on our website. In this edition of Grandstand sounds Frank Huisingh once again has the floor, who strongly calls on UEFA to stop advertising for aviation.
Frank Huisingh is the founder of Fossil Free Football, a club of football fans that wants to break the ties between polluting companies and football and make football more sustainable.
By Frank Huisingh
This article is about the Champions League, Johan Cruijff and Erling Braut Haaland, but before we get there, let's first briefly talk about solar and wind energy and the climate crisis. If you immediately think: Stop it, the climate crisis doesn't exist/isn't that bad/there's little you can do about itthen know that fossil fuel companies have poured millions into misleading PR to make you think this.
Fossil companies have lied about the science for years, blaming us and pretending that the solutions are unfeasible or unaffordable. They're not. For example, solar and wind energy are reliable and cheaper than oil and gas. They are on an unstoppable rise. Our cars will drive on it, our houses will be heated with it. However, some things are impossible without burning fossil fuels. One of them, unfortunately: flying.
Bukayo Saka inevitably advertises Emirates airline through the Arsenal shirt.
There is no such thing as sustainable flying
It is a harsh truth, but one we must accept: there is no such thing as sustainable flying. We should not make policy based on fairy tales. A small electric plane with three passengers from London to Amsterdam will be feasible, but regular flights will still use oil, lots of oil, for decades to come. And we no longer have that time, those decades, in our fight against climate change. That's why, unfortunately, there is only one serious way to reduce emissions: fly less.
The demand for flying must therefore be reduced. And that's possible! We must make flying more expensive, shrink airports and invest in good alternatives: trains and buses. Unfortunately, airlines do not accept this truth and resist policies to tax kerosene normally and limit the number of flights.
Aviation emissions are mainly caused by a small elite that flies a lot. Businessmen who fly to London several times every month, private jet-addicted celebrities and yes, also football clubs (and fans) who fly around the world. This small elite can quickly eat up a quarter of our rapidly shrinking CO2 budget. The CO2 budget is the amount of greenhouse gases we can still emit before global warming exceeds the dangerous 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In the 1970s, Johan Cruijff advertised 'sensible' Roxy Duals cigarettes.
The aviation sector is inspired by the tobacco industry
If you're an airline and you want to keep selling something so polluting, what do you do? You copy the script from the tobacco lobby's PR gurus:
Step 1: First of all, you pretend that you are really sustainable (or as with tobacco, healthy). KLM has fooled consumers so often with fairy tales about more sustainable flying that they are now being taken to court with the demand to stop their misleading advertising once and for all.
Step 2: You are going to sponsor sports. Make sure VinÃcius JÃºnior, Bukayo Saka and Haaland all play with an airline on their shirt. The Champions League, which starts again on Tuesday, is dominated by airline sponsors. Five of the sixteen teams have an airline on their shirt and UEFA itself is sponsored by an airline. The total value of these deals is estimated at at least 917 million euros. The reason why polluting companies sponsor sports? It functions.
Haaland and Cruyff
What will have a greater impact on a football fan: another expert explaining that flying is extremely polluting, or Haaland wearing Etihad on his shirt? By promoting flying as a desirable activity, these ads are making the public health and climate crisis worse. Research shows that aviation advertising alone leads to an additional 34 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. In the 1960s, a young Johan Cruijff urged customers to 'smoke responsibly'. He eventually died of lung cancer. He had quit smoking in the early 1990s and campaigned against smoking (the YouTube video below is a viewing tip). Cruyff, to put it bluntly, died from the product he had advertised decades earlier. Fortunately, tobacco advertising is now banned.
Of course, we cannot blame a young Johan Cruijff. Just like we cannot blame young footballers for putting on the shirt that is ready. But this generation will also still suffer from the emissions caused by aviation. Saka will be 80 in 2081. What will the world look like for him, his children and grandchildren? And if we only look at his football career: the 2022 World Cup was moved to winter due to the extreme summer heat in Qatar. For the 2026 World Cup in Canada, the US and Mexico, it is likely that extreme heat and possibly forest fires will almost literally throw a spanner in the works. The same applies to the 2030 World Cup matches in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.
Ban advertising for polluting companies
Even if we only cared about football, climate action is needed more than ever. And do we really want our football heroes to advertise pollution? Time for UEFA to do the same thing when it comes to advertising for flying as they did years ago for tobacco: ban it.
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