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FIFA’s Qatar World Cup carbon neutral claims unsubstantiated – Swiss regulator

June 08 2023 - News Release News Editorial

The Swiss Commission for Fairness (SLK), Switzerland’s self-regulatory body for the advertising and communications industry, has upheld complaints against football’s global governing body FIFA over its World Cup carbon neutral claims.

FIFA’s Qatar World Cup carbon neutral claims unsubstantiated – Swiss regulator

Qatar hosted the FIFA World Cup 2022 in November and December last year. 

Organisations from five European countries – Switzerland, France, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands – submitted complaints to the SLK at the end of last year. The complainants accused FIFA of making false statements in its communications about carbon neutrality at the World Cup. 

The Second Chamber of the Swiss regulator upheld all five complaints. 

The Commission considered the requirements that must be fulfilled when advertising carbon neutrality. Factual claims must be accurate by law and cannot be misleading, and there are strict standards in place when it comes to proving the accuracy of environmental claims, according to the SLK.

The SLK also adhered to the relevant provisions stipulated in the Marketing and Advertising Code, which is set out by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Surrounding the Qatar World Cup, the SLK said that FIFA used absolute statements in commercial communications and these had become the subject of the complaints. The complainants proposed that these statements offer a false and misleading impression that the Qatar World Cup was climate neutral. 

The SLK concluded that it should not be claimed that sustainability goals have been achieved without definitive and generally accepted methods for measuring sustainability. According to the SLK, the burden of proof lies with the advertising company in each case. The Second Chamber concluded that FIFA was not able to provide proof that these claims were accurate during the proceedings. 

“This is an important step. But more is needed in terms of climate action." Reclaim Fossielvrij's Femke Sleegers

FIFA has previously had an ex-ante report – based on estimations rather than results – drawn up that calculated projected emissions on a provisional basis. The estimate totalled 3.63 million tonnes of CO2 and the complainants are critical that this estimation was too low. The SLK could not judge conclusively if FIFA’s estimation was realistic or accurate, but said that generally accepted methods of measuring sustainability detailed by the ICC Code were not evident.

While the decision is not legally binding, 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’.

The complainants included Fossil Free Football and Reclaim Fossielvrij in the Netherlands, New Weather Institute in the United Kingdom, Alliance Climatique in Switzerland, Notre Affaire à tous in France and Carbon Market Watch in Belgium.

Frank Huisingh of Fossil Free Football said: “This is a very important decision. FIFA can no longer mislead the world that its World Cup in Qatar was carbon neutral. Serious climate action by FIFA is long overdue and hopefully this decision pushes them to do better. This must start with breaking ties with big polluters, such as their sponsors QatarEnergy and Qatar Airways.

“The next step is a serious plan to reduce the emissions of its tournaments. That includes choosing locations with existing infrastructure, ensuring fans can travel between host cities with low-carbon transport and focusing ticket sales on local fans.”

Femke Sleegers from Reclaim Fossielvrij added: “This is an important step. But more is needed in terms of climate action. All these decisions are taken after the fact the marketing has already done its damage. Just like with tobacco, we need to prevent that harmful ads can even get the chance to influence society. For that we need a legal ban.”

Image: Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

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