Hosting large sporting events is promoted by government as a boost to the tourism and hospitality industries.

Where the events coincide with the peak summer season, it is debatable whether they displace activity that would have occurred anyway and the boost comes, regardless of timing, at a hidden cost in terms of induced carbon emissions.

Next Wednesday German side Leverkusen and Atalanta from Italy fly in an expected 50,000 fans for the Europa League final at the Aviva stadium in Dublin 4, organised by UEFA, the body which governs European football.

UEFA devotes substantial resources to the repair of its public image following a succession of scandals which also afflicted the world body FIFA, as well as national associations including the FAI.

There have been numerous resignations and some prosecutions.

Victory for football and tourism

The 2024 Dublin venue was announced four years ago, hailed at the time by the FAI and ministers as a victory for football and tourism. It looks like the fruit of another foul-up by UEFA, whose website displays the following: “UEFA’s sustainability strategy includes cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, with the view of achieving net zero carbon by 2040 within UEFA, its events and collaboratively across European soccer.”

In the same vein UEFA unveiled an unlikely plan for the Champions League final in London on the 1 June, a partnership with UEFA’s many sponsors including companies which share its aspirations around climate change:

  • Pavegen and PepsiCo will work together on using smart flooring technology to generate electricity able to power the final’s pre-game show.
  • My Emissions and Just Eat Takeaway are to focus on building a platform for food companies to measure and reduce environmental impact using carbon labelling.
  • Pledgeball and Mastercard will team up to launch engaging campaigns and boost Mastercard’s carbon calculator adoption among fans.
  • Is it too cynical to imagine that these words were the work of UEFA’s public relations people? On 1 June the final of their premier tournament, the Champions’ League, in London will see Real Madrid face Dortmund with high-emission airline trips for fans, not to mention expensive London hotels.

    Dublin game

    The third final, of the Conference League in Athens, pairs an Italian team Fiorentina against, as luck would have it, the local team Olympiakos, but it could readily have been their semi-final victims Aston Villa, who hail from Birmingham. The Dublin game will draw supporters of Atalanta, based in Bergamo close to the Swiss border in northern Italy, and Leverkusen, an outer suburb of Cologne in Germany’s Rhineland. Fans must travel needlessly by air, as will legions of football administrators and sponsors’ guests.

    UEFA would have minimised emissions had two London teams made the Champions’ League final.

    Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne, both originally from Ringsend in Dublin 4 and with strong walking support, would have been the ideal Aviva pairing, if sadly improbable. UEFA in 2011 dragged two neighbouring teams, Braga and Porto, all the way from Portugal to Dublin 4 for the Europa League final.

    Football politics

    The game did not sell out given the venue, ill-chosen several years earlier. There was no need, aside from football politics, to fix the venue in advance. There are two fine stadiums down the road in Lisbon, where Braga and Porto would have met in any Portuguese domestic final. The GAA’s Munster Council does not pontificate about climate policy when it chooses Thurles rather than Belfast, or Reykjavik, whenever Cork qualify to play Limerick.

    The Aviva game next week has seen Leverkusen and Atalanta supporters quoted €500 per night for Dublin hotels, causing some charter flights to seek same-day schedules, parking aircraft for five or six hours at Dublin airport and departing straight after the game.

    Summer arrives on cue for airports and Dublin does not have spare parking stands for a once-off influx.

    If Dublin is a long way from the home towns of our guests, Bergamo and Leverkusen, Munich is right in the middle and has a fine new stadium. The train from Leverkusen reaches Munich in 4/5 hours and a bus trip from Bergamo is about the same even with the Alps in the way.


    A cheaper round-trip, with far lower carbon emissions, is feasible and would surely be welcomed by both participants. In 2022 the Dutch club Eindhoven qualified to play Roma in the final of the Europa Conference League but UEFA had pre-selected distant Tirana, the capital of Albania. The game attracted a below-capacity crowd and the choice of venue prompted widespread ridicule.

    The adoption of UEFA’s zero-carbon commitment followed FIFA’s bizarre decision to play the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Regardless, unsuitable venues for European club finals continue to be selected years in advance.