Women’s football holds immense potential as a lever for climate action | Amy James-Turner

The topic of the climate crisis is not one we often associate with football, especially not with women’s football. However, as a professional player who has had the privilege of engaging with my fellow colleagues on this pressing issue, I’ve come to realise the deep concern and untapped potential within our community.

I joined Planet League, the football climate action platform for fans, as an ambassador last year and wanted to focus my efforts on leadership in the women’s game. At the end of May we launched Women’s Football and Climate Change: The Players’ Perspective – a report that sheds light on how our sport intersects with the climate crisis and what we, as players, think needs to be done.

The report is based on in-depth interviews I conducted with players from across the game alongside a wider survey, again completed by over 100 players from 36 clubs.

So what did we find? First and foremost, the reality of the climate crisis is already making its mark on our game. A significant number of players have noticed changes in playing conditions over their careers. Warmer temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns, and the stress these place on both training and match-day routines are becoming all too familiar. In fact, 65% of the players surveyed agree or strongly agree that climate change is affecting football both on and off the pitch. And over 70% feel that climate change has affected playing conditions during their career. This isn’t a distant threat; it’s here, and it’s now.

Despite the evident impacts, many of us had not thought much about the climate crisis before diving into these conversations. As footballers, we’re conditioned to focus on the next game, the next training session, often at the expense of broader world issues. Yet, as our discussions unfolded, a powerful shift began to take place. We started to see the potential for change not just in our personal lives but within our clubs and the wider football community.

One of the key issues that came up repeatedly was the pervasive use of plastic within football. From single-use bottles at training grounds to the packaging of supplements, the convenience of plastic is deeply embedded in our routines. It is frustratingly common to see no recycling options available, even when it is such an easy step to implement. Many players feel strongly that eliminating single-use plastics should be a priority for clubs.

Travel, especially flights, is another significant concern. Our schedules require us to fly frequently, contributing heavily to our carbon footprint. Some players suggested reducing the number of international breaks and making the football calendar more feasible for players to cut down on flights. This not only benefits the environment but also addresses the physical and mental fatigue that comes with constant travel.

Many players feel strongly that eliminating single-use plastics should be a priority for clubs. Photograph: Chris Arjoon/AFP/Getty Images

However, it’s not just about the individual actions of players. There’s a crucial need for leadership and systemic change within the sport. Almost everyone surveyed (96%) believes that professional footballers can have a big influence in raising awareness about the climate crisis and promoting sustainable living. And 85% think that the football community can be effective in addressing the climate crisis if it comes together. Unfortunately, this leadership is often lacking, resulting in missed opportunities for clubs, leagues and sponsors to leverage their resources and platforms for significant environmental impact.

Interestingly, our concerns and willingness to act aren’t always rooted in our childhoods or early education. While some players grew up in environmentally conscious households, many only became aware of the climate crisis through conversations or through their own research later in life. This highlights the importance of continuous education and open dialogue within our teams and communities.

Football, with its global reach and passionate following, holds immense potential as a lever for climate action. A large majority of players believe that the football community working together can be extremely effective in combating climate change. The industry must actively reduce its carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future. Players are ready to play their part, but they need the support and commitment from the entire football ecosystem.

One area of significant debate is the role of fossil fuel sponsorship in football. Opinions vary, with some players advocating for an immediate end to such sponsorships, while others suggest a phased approach. The general consensus is that while financial support is crucial, it shouldn’t come at the expense of our planet’s future.

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Reflecting on my interviews, it’s clear that the conversations we started have already sparked change. Players are now talking about climate issues over meals, with family, and within their clubs. This newfound awareness is empowering them to make more environmentally conscious decisions and to advocate for greener practices within their teams.

The industry needs to contribute to a more sustainable future. Photograph: Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images

There’s a long road ahead, but I am hopeful. The passion and dedication that women’s football has shown in pushing for gender equality and growth within the sport can be harnessed to drive climate action. We can be leaders in this space.

As we continue to push for change, I urge my fellow players, women and men alike, football clubs, and the wider sports community to join us. Let’s make sustainability a core value of football. The stakes are high, but together, we can make a difference. This isn’t just about the future of our sport; it’s about the future of our world.

Amy James-Turner is a defender for Tottenham in the WSL and played four times for England

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The Guardian

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