According to Environmental Leader (one of the electronic newsletters I get daily or oftener), the recently completed World Cup competition resulted in the release of over 2.7 million tons (CO2 equivalent weight) of greenhouse gases. To understand what that means, consider that it's eight times as much as was released by the previous World Cup tournament.
Not that South Africa didn't do a good job of building environmentally friendly stadiums, they did. But the stadiums only accounted for 0.5 percent of tournament emissions. Major emissions sources were international travel (1.86 million tons, or 67.4%), intercity travel within South Africa (485,000 tons, 17.6%), and hotel accommodations (340,000 tons, 12.4%).
Why the eight-fold increase? Because the last World Cup was in Germany, and most of the soccer fans who travel to the tournament are Europeans. (Not most soccer fans overall, of course.) Holding the tournament far from Europe maximizes air miles traveled. (BTW, the next one's in Brazil.)
Still, you can't hold a world-wide event and limit it to one or two continents. It's the global interest, the global participation that makes the World Cup the biggest sporting event on Earth. (Far bigger than the Olympics.)
The question is -- would it still be the World Cup without the thousands (tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands) of screaming, bell-ringing, vuvuzela-blowing fans right there in the stadium? The sports purist in me says "yes", and points out that the quality of play would probably go even higher if the players weren't constantly under sensory assault. The realist in me says "no", because without all the physical tourist traffic (and resulting tourist dollars/euros/krugerrands), no host country would be willing to put out the necessary effort.
Still, given that the vast majority of World Cup fans attended the tournament only electronically, I wonder . . . couldn't there be some sort of revenue-sharing agreement, whereby FIFA bumped the broadcast rights pricing a wee bit, the host country was compensated out of TV money (and with some free publicity at half-times), and tournament travel was minimized?
For most of us, the experience wouldn't much change. But the emission levels certainly would. And it could set a really great example.