Watchdog Says Qatar World Cup Was Not so Green

Five European countries submitted complaints to the Swiss Commission for Fairness against FIFA in response to its 2022 World Cup carbon neutrality claims.

The Commission has now reported that following, what it says was an arduous and complex process, it has upheld the complaints against the global football governing body.

The complaints that were lodged with the Swiss Commission for Fairness (SLK) at the end of 2022 all related to the same theme.

Complainants from Switzerland, France, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands accused FIFA of making false statements in its communications about carbon neutrality at the Qatar World Cup. The Second Chamber of the SLK has now upheld all five complaints following a complex process.

Strict Standards

When reaching its decision, the Commission considered in detail the requirements that must be fulfilled when advertising carbon neutrality.

Factual claims must be accurate by law and must not be misleading. Strict standards must also apply when it comes to proving the accuracy of environmental claims. Consequently, the SLK adheres to the relevant provisions stipulated in the Marketing and Advertising Code set out by the International Chamber of Commerce ICC.

In some instances, FIFA used absolute statements in commercial communications, which have become the subject of complaints. The complainants proposed that these statements give a false and misleading impression that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was climate-neutral or carbon-neutral before and during the tournament.

The SLK concluded that it should not be claimed that sustainability goals have been achieved if there are no definitive and generally accepted methods for measuring sustainability or ensuring sustainability measures have been implemented.

The burden of proof lies with the advertising company in each case. In the opinion of the Second Chamber, FIFA was not able to provide proof that the claims were accurate during the proceedings as required by the SLK.

FIFA previously had an ex-ante report drawn up that calculated projected emissions – 3.63 million tonnes of CO2 – on a provisional basis. However, the complainants are critical that the estimation contained in the report is too low.

The SLK could not judge conclusively whether FIFA’s estimation was realistic or accurate. However, “generally accepted methods” for measuring sustainability as defined by Art. D1 of the ICC Code were not in evidence. Even if the estimation eventually matched definitive figures, it was unclear to the SLK whether the promised level of CO2 compensation was realistic at all.

FIFA has stated in its submissions that it had already compensated for an estimated 3.63 million tonnes of CO2 in advance. In addition, the football body has repeatedly promised to fully offset emissions that will be definitively calculated at a later date.

However, it did not prove that the emissions stated in the ex-ante report had been offset and did not set out a plan to define how it will further offset emissions. Furthermore, it remained unclear whether the compensation measures would align with Swiss standards. Among other things, these standards call for a complete and permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Recommendations

The SLK has advised FIFA to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims in the future. Particularly the claim that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was climate- or carbon-neutral.

At the time of communication, claims of this nature could only be made if the body could – using generally accepted methods – fully substantiate the calculation of all CO2 emissions caused due to the tournament and provide proof that these CO2 emissions have been fully offset.