UEFA’s Respect Report shows progress in the first year of its sustainability strategy but plenty of work still to do
UEFA’s recently published 2021-22 Respect Report provides a first look at how the organisation has made progress towards meeting its sustainability goals in 2022. Whilst the report showcases a wide variety of success stories across the key priority areas, particularly in local community projects and general governance, the report also highlights the urgent need to address key environmental issues and to improve the quality of data gathering, management and reporting.
The original sustainability strategy, Strength Through Unity, released in December 2021, laid out UEFA’s long-term commitment to achieving progress in issues relating to human rights and the environment. Organised around eleven strategic priorities and implemented across five areas of action, the strategy laid out clear goals to be reached by 2030. The newly-released 2021/22 Respect Report takes us through each priority, highlighting the key achievements of the 2021/22 season. With an emphasis on action, accountability, and collaboration, the report aims to highlight the measurable progress made towards the goal of positioning European football as ‘a platform for collaboration and impactful change’.
The eleven strategic priorities cover both environmental and human rights-related areas: anti-racism; child & youth protection; equality & inclusion; football for all abilities; health & well-being; refugee support; solidarity & rights; circular economy; climate & advocacy; event sustainability; and infrastructure sustainability. Within these, UEFA have set goals within five areas of action: UEFA internal organisation; UEFA events; UEFA members; football ecosystem; and partners & society. Taking each priority in turn, the Respect Report showcases local, national, and international progress.
Main achievements of the season
Among the major successes of 2021/22 highlighted by the report are the introduction of sustainability requirements in the host bidding process for tournaments; the implementation of sustainability policies across all events; a new Respect programme to tackle online abuse; and the installation of mandatory sustainability managers among member associations. These achievements contribute to one of the main goals of the 2021/22 season, which was to ‘grow the community of football professionals engaged in accelerating the sustainability agenda’.
The report also highlights the monetary investment by UEFA in football social responsibility (FSR) activities, amounting to over €10 million in 2021/22. Of this, €5.2 million went to the HatTrick programme, which redistributes revenue from European Championship tournaments for investment in football development projects, while €4.7 million went to broader FSR projects. 77% of funding went to activities in the field of human rights, while 23% went to environmental initiatives.
"The roots of our beloved game grow deeply inside our communities, offering inspiration, opportunities and hope to people. Our sport proves to be an astonishing driver of positive social change, both in terms of awareness and real help for people in need. It is a role that UEFA gladly accepts with great joy and responsibility, and we are delighted that our members and partners also lead by example."
Human rights activities
Many milestones fell under the seven human rights-related strategic priorities. In particular, the report highlighted the development of an online abuse monitoring platform; the appointment of child and youth protection officers among member organisations; and the achievement of equal salary certification at UEFA.
Under the anti-racism goal, UEFA is aiming for 0 racist incidents across UEFA events by 2030, and wants 100% of its member associations to implement anti-racism reporting structures. In 2021/22, 2,876 matches were monitored for racism and 17 incidents were followed by sanctions, while 33% of member associations are implementing anti-racism reporting structures. With some way to go before meeting these goals, the report also highlights anti-racism projects off the pitch, such as the development of their flagship anti-discrimination documentary, Outraged, and the Austrian Football Association’s Lernkuve Stadion project, which invited young fans to participate in anti-discrimination workshops.
UEFA are also aiming for all member associations to have a child and youth protection policy by 2025, and report that 51% currently have such a policy in 2021/22. In line with this goal, the report highlights the safeguarding toolkit and digital platform, UEFA-safeguarding.eu, which was developed with Terre des Hommes and aims to provide learning resources for ‘creating safer football environments for children’.
The report also shines a light on UEFA’s internal equality and inclusion objectives. The organisation became the first sports organisation to receive equal salary certification in December 2021. Meanwhile, the report highlights the UEFA Inclusive Language Guidelines, which were developed this season, and other HatTrick projects that have addressed issues of equality and inclusion, such as the Austrian Football Association’s Fußball für Alle programme developed to tackle homophobia in football.
In the area of disability rights, the report highlights that 42% of venues currently comply with UEFA accessibility requirements, with a target of 100% by 2026. To promote progress in this area, UEFA have continued their partnership with the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE), and took part in the CAFE Week of Action in 2021/22. Meanwhile, two of the key health and wellbeing targets have been met, with 80% of member organisations running health and wellbeing awareness campaigns, and 42% of associations organising football activities for older people.
Another key achievement was the UNITY EURO Cup held in June 2022. A collaboration between UEFA and the UNHCR, the tournament aimed to ‘celebrate football’s power to strengthen ties between host communities and displaced people’. 55% of member associations offer participation opportunities for refugees, with a target of 70% set for 2025. A total of €419,000 was invested in football and refugee grants, up 40% on the previous season. Meanwhile, UEFA continued to support the Homeless World Cup Foundation (HWCF), and aimed to encourage member associations to support their national homeless football teams.
Progress towards environmental goals
The report also lays out key achievements under the environmental priorities. Key milestones in 2021/22 included the commitment to the UN’s Race to Zero campaign; the creation of the UEFA Sustainable Infrastructure Guidelines; and a partnership with PepsiCo aimed at reducing stadium food waste.
Developing an approach to circular economy was central to the 2021/22 achievements. With the overall aim of fully embedding the 4R approach (reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover) by 2030, and running a zero food and plastic waste UEFA Champions League final in 2026, tracking progress in this area is key. In 2021/22, the organisation published the UEFA Circular Economy Guidelines to help stakeholders transition to the 4R approach. Meanwhile, the partnership with PepsiCo trialled reusable cups at the 2022 UEFA Champions League final in Paris.
In the broader area of climate advocacy, UEFA have agreed on a carbon measurement and reduction roadmap, and in 2021/22 selected a non-financial data calculation tool. Public-facing work included the #EveryTrickCounts campaign, which the report estimates reached 35 million people during the Champions League Final.
In the area of event and infrastructure sustainability, UEFA have developed the ESG Event Management System, which is due to be rolled out fully in 2024. All venues bidding for events will have to go through the system during the 2022-25 cycle, and the aim is for all UEFA events to be verified as sustainable according to the ESG Event Management Criteria by 2030. Meanwhile, the UEFA Sustainable Infrastructure Guidelines, developed with the help of external experts, will be available as a constantly-updated online working tool, encouraging organisations to share best practice.
Where to next?
Overall, the Respect Report showcases a wide variety of success stories across the key priority areas, highlighting positive developments from local community football to UEFA’s internal governance. However, the emphasis falls more heavily on the human rights-related priorities, leaving space for development in the environmental areas. At the same time, as the report points out, the data provided is inconsistent, with room for clearer measurement and reporting in many of the goals. The report states that much of the data is ‘yet to be collected or in the process of being collected’, and concludes that ‘the amount of data published will increase in future Respect Reports’. Improving the transparency and availability of data will certainly be a necessary step forward for future UEFA reports as they look to reach their ambitious 2030 goals.
"We are proud of what has been done, but also very well aware it is only the beginning of a journey. If we all act together, we can make it an adventure of a lifetime. Because in this match, we all wear the same shirt.”
With major events and tournaments on the horizon, including the 2024 European Football Championship, many of the key priorities highlighted in UEFA’s sustainability strategy will be put to the test. The many positive changes across Europe showcased in the Respect Report demonstrate the increasing urgency of implementing sustainable practices in all areas of football, and the possibilities for collaboration, innovation, and concrete change. Continued accountability, transparency, and good data reporting will help us to truly gauge our progress.
Read moreBethany White