The Beautiful Game

Last Sunday, was perhaps the biggest game ever in what is undoubtedly the biggest show in sports, the World Cup. More people watch the soccer/football World Cup than well, pretty much anything. This go-round, an estimated 4 billion people tuned in. In a world of different languages, religions, and politics, that’s something remarkable.

Not being a soccer/football fan myself, I admit I was confused that it was going on. I thought to myself vaguely, doesn’t that happen in the summer? Turns out, I was right. As Qatar was hosting, the matches were moved to the winter for slightly cooler temperatures. The climate stories wrote themselves. For instance, the Columbia School of Journalism wrote a great piece chronicling many possible angles — from how fossil fuels may have helped Qatar buy their way into hosting the World Cup, to how the nation is warming at above average rates that are inching toward the uninhabitable, to how the World Cup in and of itself is increasing emissions.

This is not a problem that is going to end soon. Just this week, Sam Mewis, pro player for the USWNT wrote a piece advocating for increased climate action (and bless her heart, she even talks about demanding systemic, political change) and consideration of player safety. She is worried about the impact extreme weather will have on the 2026 World Cup in North America.

Now, I’ll admit that like a true American (so sorry), I started reading into all of this, because I finally got around to watching Ted Lasso. If you haven’t seen the dramedy about an American football coach taking a job in the English Premier League, then you’re missing out. Give it a watch, and you’ll see why my guy Sam Obisanya (shout out to #24) is clearly the greatest! His protests of oil drilling in Nigeria are a great, albeit minor climate plotline.

It is true that oil drilling in Nigeria is a huge, decades-long injustice, mostly linked to Royal Dutch Shell. I’d suggest reading more about a recent legal win and Shell’s connection to executions of political leaders for further background.

Just like in Ted Lasso, damaging fossil fuel companies are quite tied up with global soccer in real life. Here is a brilliant exposé, where I also learned that there is a group called FossilFreeFootball, let’s go! I’m all for sports fans kicking climate killers to the curb.

It is important to note that the sponsor problem is not just limited to football. For many years, I knew the name of Norway’s state oil company, Statoil (they’ve rebranded as Equinor now), because they are a common nordic ski sponsor. I am pleased to note, though, that cross-country skiing’s title sponsor is… cheese.

If it wasn’t already clear, the climate crisis is coming for all sports. Just this month, the IOC decided to take more time in deciding a host for the 2030 Winter Olympics. Finally bowing to public pressure, or the climbing mercury, they are going to consider permanent host sites for the Winter Olympics. This would mean choosing several sites, in cold climates, that would rotate in always hosting the Winter Games. This would save billions of dollars in venue construction and ensure that the Winter Olympics are held in places that actually have winter. We’ll see where the IOC lands, but even considering change is something that sports institutions have not been known for.

The games we play are inextricably linked with the climates we play them in and the companies that sponsor them. Unlike other forms of pop culture, we don’t need to write climate into the lyrics or the plotline. It’s already there.


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