UEFA is serious about using the power of football to have a positive impact on global issues of environmental sustainability and social responsibility. Here, the director of football social responsibility at UEFA, Michele Uva, explains how the governing body is doing this.
Why did UEFA launch the Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign around the European Under-21 Championship?
“It’s staggering that one in eight deaths in Europe is linked to air pollution. Yet how many of us realise the scale of the problem? Around 90 million people play football in Europe, making us one of the biggest ‘communities’ in the world. We hope Cleaner Air, Better Games can inform both fans and stakeholders about a real, present danger in our lives and show that there are simple actions we can all take to reduce the impact of air pollution.”
What has UEFA learnt from the campaign so far?
“UEFA signed up to the European Union’s Green Deal last December. We are still learning how football can use its influence to support climate action as well as adapt to reduce its own environmental impact. Cleaner Air, Better Games represents a first step on this journey.
“On 7 June, the day after the Under-21 EURO final, we will stage an online Climate Summit in Ljubljana to share the campaign’s lessons with the wider football, political and scientific community. It will be a moment to recap and review. The European Commission’s Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, will take part, together with former French international Mathieu Flamini, environmental experts, and UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin.”
How will UEFA ensure the European football community follows its example?
“We hope that by ensuring all future UEFA events are carbon neutral, we can inspire the entire football system to follow in our footsteps. This year, for example, the Under-21 EURO finals, EURO 2020, the Champions League and Europa League finals were all carbon neutral.
“However, climate change and air pollution are global issues that are not limited to any one organisation or nation. Whatever actions UEFA takes, we will achieve nothing by working alone. Moving forward, it will be important to engage our 55 member associations across the continent, as well as clubs and leagues. We will also need to work with global institutions, stakeholders, sponsors and others to reduce both our individual and our collective impact. Football must lead the way in promoting a real behavourial change in society.”
How else is UEFA working to ensure football plays a positive role in key social and global issues?
“When your sport is played and followed by millions of people, your actions have an enormous impact on society, especially the young. That brings a responsibility that football cannot ignore and is why, in April, UEFA made social responsibility central to its five-year strategy for European football.
“Our main focus is on the environment and human rights, but we are also working on other key social topics. For example, the pandemic showed the important role of football in helping individuals cope with mental health issues. This year, we will invest €12 million in our football social responsibility activities. For us, it is an investment in the future, not only for football but also, society.”