The third tier of UEFA’s club competition kicked off controversially in the 2020-21 season, drawing in teams from around Europe both great and small.
It gave countries such as Armenia, Estonia, Cyprus and Kazakhstan the chance to develop players on a continental stage against the likes of Harry Kane and Stephan El Shaarawy with managers pitting their wits against marquee names such as Jose Mourinho – but at what cost?
Undoubtedly there are some positive aspects to the introduction of this new tournament, which is designed at broadening the quality of football played in some of Europe’s smaller countries, offer greater exposure to the wider game and provide them with a higher level of competition than they have ever had before, but all that glitters is not gold.
Eco-Friendly Leagues analyses the distances travelled by every club in the group stages of the Champions League, Europa League and the Europa Conference League to see which team will do the most travelling this year, and who is producing the most tonnes of CO2 and therefore producing the biggest carbon footprint and doing damage to the environment.
By measuring the distance travelled to the ground of every away game for each team, and using MyClimate.org to calculate the emissions offset by the plane journey to the nearest airport, we have compared each European competition to show how they differ, and why the Europa Conference League is unnecessary.
Not only does it further clog up the ever-growing fixture schedule and demand more of players who are already being worked into the ground – thus reducing overall quality – there have been accusations that the tournament will only serve the interests of the powerful clubs at the top of the European pyramid, who will ultimately have their positions in the Champions League further strengthened.
The saturation of fixtures has been a huge hindrance to teams qualifying for the Europa League in England in recent seasons, with teams often falling away due to the treadmill of playing on Thursday-Sunday most weeks, often travelling to far-flung corners of Europe, which brings us to the issue of climate change.
By creating a league made up of so-called ‘minnows’ from across Europe, teams are forced to travel further afield than ever before, and in a time when the issue of climate change has never been more important, it raises questions over the ethics.
How much more travelling are teams doing now, and what effect is it having on the environment?
Results show that on average, teams in the third tier cover 5,407km in the group stages compared to just 4,211 – that is a 28% increase in distance covered.
That equates to a carbon footprint of 5.73t CO2 on average per team – an overall of 183t CO2 – compared to just 3.42t CO2 (109.29) for Champions League teams.
On an average matchday, Conference League teams produce 1.91t CO2 compared to 1.14t CO2 for Europe’s elite.
Kairat of Kazakhstan will travel the furthest distance in Europe this year, racking up 11,322km in air miles during their group matches and producing 11.20t CO2 while fellow Group H side Basel will actually produce more CO2 despite travelling 96km less.
In the Champions League on the other hand, Club Brugge will travel just 1,353km in the group stages.
But what does all this mean?
It means that while the prospect of growing football and offering a higher standard for players to aspire to in some of the smaller European nations, the damage this is doing to the environment – that wasn’t previously there – means that this extra competition, which there was no appetite for, is actually doing more harm than good.
If UEFA are serious about tackling climate change like they claim to be with their ‘Cleaner Air, Better Game’ campaign, then they should rethink the extra travel required by introducing more matches.