Global sporting events: their legacy

Here we go, here we go, here we go

With the 2018 FIFA Football World Cup about to kick off in Russia, the host nation facing Saudi Arabia on Thursday, the eyes of football fans will be on the 22 players on the pitch. There may be a few distracted by the magnificence of the stadia constructed for the tournament, but few will spare a thought for the overall sustainability of this global event. 


How will Russia 2018 impact upon the environment? How will it leave a positive social legacy? These are important questions, not only for all large events that see thousands travelling from around the world in order to attend; but also in relation to the specific circumstances of the world's largest country (making up 11% of the world's landmass, with a population in excess of 144 million).

It is estimated that the event will generate over 2.1 million tCO2e. At 74.7% of this total, international travel to Russia and travel between host cities are the major contributors of these emissions. Unsurprising, really: the FIFA World Cup is the largest single-sport competition in the world. Staging a tournament of this scale inevitably has an impact on the environment.

Travelling fans will account for 75% of the total Carbon emissions associated with the Fifa World Cup in Russia 2018

Travelling fans will account for 75% of the total Carbon emissions associated with the Fifa World Cup in Russia 2018

Russia 2018 has a bold sustainability strategy, following the framework set out in ISO 20121, specifying the retirements for an Event Sustainability Management System. It aims to ensure that the event is (1) financially successful; (2) socially responsible; and (3) reduces its environmental footprint.

Done properly, it can boost motivation of those working on the event, helping to attract and retain the best talent. It can enhance reputation and strengthen relationships with key clients, suppliers and partners. It can achieve cost-savings in terms of material consumption, waste and energy; reducing carbon emissions over the entire event supply chain. And it can strengthen the position of the organising body within the community.

So, what's being done?

Social capital

Working in partnership, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee are supporting initiatives in the areas of health and decent work and capacity building, inclusivity and equality, social development through football, as well as healthy living and sustainable sport legacy.

These include tackling social issues through football programmes for young people; the promotion of healthy lifestyles (stadiums will be 100% smoke-free), football development and youth participation in football; and ensuring the sustainable use of the stadiums after the event.

Inclusivity and equality have been key areas for attention, and actions include ensuring fully-accessible events and transport services for disabled people and people with limited mobility; the creation of opportunities for low-income groups to obtain tickets for matches; and ensuring a discrimination-free environment at all sites and events.

Creating a lasting legacy, particularly around engaging young people in sport, is always a key aim of any global sporting event

Creating a lasting legacy, particularly around engaging young people in sport, is always a key aim of any global sporting event

Environmental capital

Addressing environmental concerns, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee have focused on (1) green building standards, to include developing the sustainable management capacities of stadium operators; (2) transport, carbon, energy and waste management; and (3) risk mitigation and biodiversity.

With the aim of reducing the environmental impact and raising awareness of climate change, FIFA has launched a campaign encouraging successful ticket applicants to offset the carbon emissions resulting from their travel to the tournament for free.

All ticket holders are invited to sign up on and take part in the campaign, regardless of where they live. For each ticket holder signing up, FIFA will offset 2.9 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (tCO2e), which is the average emission per ticket holder traveling from abroad. The incentive to get fans to sign up is that they will automatically enter a prize draw to win two tickets for the FIFA World Cup final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

This is in line with its long-running environmental program and its more recent pledge to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now campaign. So, FIFA will offset all unavoidable emissions over which it has control, plus up to a maximum of 100,000 tCO2e for the ticket holders who sign up. The list of offsetting projects selected will include verified low-carbon projects in Russia and abroad. 

As those supporters arrive in the impressive array of 12 new and refurbished stadiums as the tournament kicks off on 14 June, they will all have undergone a standards certification process for sustainable buildings, either through the new Russian certification or through the BREEAM international certification (e.g. the Luzhniki and Spartak Stadiums in Moscow and Fisht Stadium in Sochi).

Ensuring that the stadiums are designed to BREEAM standards will raise the bar of sustainable design and construction in Russia. Certainly, prior to this event, regulations in green building were not well developed, with few incentives to implement green technologies. It is important to recognise the significance of this achievement by the design team.


Building sporting arenas in line with green standards not only reduces their impact on the environment but also, to a great extent, determines their future use, including lower water and energy consumption. Take the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (shown above), which will be the main venue of the event: 

Energy conservation is achieved through modern heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, as well as bringing together all essential utilities into one automated central system. This will allow complete monitoring and control of how much energy the building is consuming.

Using LED-based lamps instead of incandescent lights will save a significant amount of electricity. The lighting outside the venue was also installed using electricity-saving strategies. 

Water-saving technology at the stadium will allow hundreds of thousands of litres to be saved during a match at full operational capacity.

Large green spaces and a high number of trees already present in the vicinity were preserved during the reconstruction, while even more greenery was also added. According to the stadium managers, 1,050 trees and bushes were planted, and 15,700 square metres of flower beds were laid down.

Part of the Sustainability Strategy is the development of a waste management plan for organising tailor-made waste collection and recycling processes at all official sites and events – along with the communication tools to inform and motivate spectators to dispose of their waste accordingly.


So, at last year's FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, recyclable material was successfully segregated from general waste: 87.9 tonnes of glass, PET, aluminium, paper and cardboard were separated and recycled. The use of waste compactors will enhance the transportation and storage of waste ahead of reprocessing.

Furthermore, public transport information points aim to help visitors travel more sustainably, with site layouts designed to prevent the intersection of pedestrian, parking and delivery pathways. Free train tickets are available to supporters during the event, in a bid to encourage rail rather than air travel. The introduction of new, state-of-the-art hybrid trams will also see a sustainable transport legacy from the event.


For the first time, ecological and biodiversity studies have been undertaken that go beyond typical local construction practice requirements, with measures to enhance local biodiversity. Crucially, , compliance has been strengthened around operations and regulations governing specially protected sites. In this way, it can be hoped that future construction and infrastructure projects will pay greater attention to environmental concerns.

With kick-off looming, it just remains to wish all nations every success (although we're obviously getting behind the England team to win it!), and hope that the true winners from Russia 2018 are the environment and communities impacted by this massive global event.