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Is the Premier League’s target of a ‘net zero carbon’ game just another virtue-signaling own goal?

Is the Premier League’s target of a ‘net zero carbon’ game just another virtue-signaling own goal?
On Sunday, Tottenham will host Chelsea in a match they hope will become the first-ever 'net zero carbon' elite-level game – but does the evidence suggest that the attempt is anything but a drop in an ever-rising ocean?

The initiative, launched by Tottenham and British broadcaster Sky, aims to reduce as much as possible the carbon footprint associated with the game by asking fans to travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in as environmentally conscious a means as possible, while sustainable vegan products will be widely available at the various concession stands inside the stadium.

Sky have also pledged to cut their emissions while broadcasting the match and players from both clubs will arrive at the ground on buses powered by eco-friendly biofuel.

It doesn't stop there. During the match – which is being dubbed #GameZero – players will drink water from cartons rather than plastic bottles, while Spurs have also promised to offset any carbon emissions which slip through the gaps with natural remedies such as planting trees. 

The UK government has also endorsed the net zero carbon game ahead of hosting the international COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in November, where methods to help mitigate global carbon emissions will be among the topics for discussions.

But while all of this can be considered a worthwhile gesture to help raise awareness for the very real dangers of climate change, it is difficult to escape the thought that very little can be achieved by asking fans to cycle to a football match or to exchange their meat pie for a vegan alternative – other than the inevitable resentment which would surely follow. 

If we have learned one thing from the past 18 months or so, it is that people – and especially large swathes of football fans – don't like having their hand held and lectured that whatever social issue being championed that week is 'for a good cause'.

We saw this during repeated breaches of social distancing guidelines related to football throughout Euro 2020 and elsewhere, as well as in the wildly divisive debates which took place regarding footballers taking a knee before games. 

Larger than that, massive multinational companies such as Sky miss the central point when the issue these types of directives, which almost always come with a gushing PR campaign behind them: it isn't so much an individual football fan who should be compelled to change their behavior, but rather enterprises like Sky themselves. 

Sure, an individual person deciding to change their own habits in a bid to become more environmentally conscious can only be described as a good thing on a granular level.

And yes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and all that – but a recent estimate which asserted that just 100 companies are responsible for around 71 percent of global emissions spells out in clear embossed lettering where the real source of the problem lies.

It is perhaps telling, then, that Sky have refused requests to share the data from #GameZero after the match – just one of 380 games which will take place in England's top flight this season. 

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If real change is what is truly craved then clubs like Tottenham might be better served in refusing sponsorship deals with brands whose own carbon emissions are past a certain high-water mark – something which, if adopted unilaterally across European football, may begin to force change.

Until that day comes, what we're left with is large companies displaying their virtue and excusing themselves from any blame, 'offsetting' their emissions by planting a few trees.

And that sounds like 'carbon-laundering'. 

By John Balfe 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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