“African football is being heavily influenced by the influx of funds from the fossil fuel industry, leading to detrimental effects on its long-term sustainability,” states David Goldblatt.
This Saturday, the biennial international men’s football tournament known as the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) or the TotalEnergies Afcon 2023, will begin in Ivory Coast. The main focus for the British sports media is how this will affect the Premier League, with top teams losing their African star players for up to six weeks during the mid-season. It is worth noting that Afcon 2023 is actually taking place in 2024 and that its name is heavily associated with the French oil company.
For over 50 years, the competition has taken place during the months of January and February. However, in an attempt to satisfy the demands of certain European leagues and teams, the Confederation of African Football (Caf) initially planned to hold the 2023 edition in June and July. Unfortunately, these dates overlapped with the rainy season in West Africa, and due to the current climate crisis, the region is more susceptible to severe weather conditions during this time of year.
The organizers deemed it necessary to move the event back to its usual winter timeframe, now set for 2024. While it may not have been their original intention, it is fitting that the TotalEnergies name is closely associated with this event, similar to the recent trend of naming severe weather events after fossil fuel corporations.
The connection between contemporary African football and the hydrocarbon industry is not uncommon. In recent years, companies like Chevron (Texaco’s parent company), Shell, BP (through their lubrication brand Castrol), Petrobras in Brazil, and Eni in Italy have been significant sponsors of both competitions and clubs. Before the conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s Gazprom sponsored the Fifa World Cup and Uefa Champions League, as well as teams like Germany’s Schalke 04 and Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade. Azerbaijan’s state oil company, Socar, also shared its resources with Uefa and Atlético Madrid.
In recent years, the efforts made by various countries have been overshadowed by the significant amount of money invested by three oil-rich states – Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. These states have not only financially supported European clubs and tournaments, but have also taken ownership of them. However, even though the 2022 World Cup was hosted by Qatar, it was still recognized as the Fifa World Cup, not the Qatar Energy World Cup. As for the 2034 World Cup, it is not currently being marketed as the Saudi Aramco World Cup, although that could potentially change in the future.
The funds from oil have played a significant role in supporting African soccer for a while now. Several countries that have hosted the Africa Cup of Nations – Angola in 2010, Equatorial Guinea in 2012 and 2015, and Gabon in 2012 and 2017 – have used large sums of money, mostly from their oil industries, to build new stadiums. However, these investments have turned out to be unsuccessful and the stadiums are now decaying due to lack of use and upkeep.
In 2016, TotalEnergies started its partnership with African sports by signing a sponsorship deal with Caf for an undisclosed sum. This deal covered all international and club competitions. However, Caf’s poor financial management, which included the cancellation of a $1 billion deal with Lagardère, has left it heavily reliant on TotalEnergies.
The track record of TotalEnergies in Africa has been questionable. Like other international mining corporations, they have faced allegations of tax evasion, interfering in local politics, and causing environmental and displacement issues. Two particularly contentious projects are their LNG extraction plant in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique and the extensive East African crude oil pipeline (Eacop) that will transport oil from Lake Albert in Uganda through Tanzania to the coast of the Indian Ocean.
Thousands of residents were forced to leave their homes in Cabo Delgado, and while NGOs provided some compensation, they have reported a significant impact on livelihoods. Communities are now unable to fish and the destruction of fish stocks and marine habitats has been widespread. The construction of Eacop, set to finish in 2025, is expected to displace tens of thousands more people. There have already been reports of aggressive treatment towards protesters, and the project poses a threat to delicate ecosystems by increasing pollution. Furthermore, the project will release greenhouse gases that are 25 times higher than the combined annual emissions of Uganda and Tanzania.
As the influx of funds from the oil and gas industry continues, the world of football has become increasingly aware of the dangers posed by the climate emergency. The rising global temperatures, particularly in Africa, will make outdoor football an increasingly risky sport to participate in. The effects of extreme weather, sea level rise, and flooding are already disrupting schedules and damaging infrastructure. The coastal cities of Africa, along with their stadiums, are particularly vulnerable to these threats. As a result, organizations such as Fifa, Uefa, and several prominent football associations and clubs have joined the UN’s Sports for Climate Action framework. They have pledged to reduce their emissions by half by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
Efforts to promote environmental awareness, like the green football weekend organized by the English Football League, are becoming more widespread. While some of these initiatives have shown positive results in terms of decreasing emissions and shifting public perspectives, others are insincere.
The Qatar World Cup, previously touted as a carbon-neutral event by Fifa, was found to have unsubstantiated claims by a Swiss court. However, as long as the game and its dominant organization continue to promote the false environmental efforts of governments and companies, it is difficult to see how it can effectively address this pressing global issue.
Caf and TotalEnergies are refraining from making any promises regarding Afcon 2023. While this lack of hypocrisy and false environmental claims is commendable, it offers little comfort. The hydrocarbon industry, including TotalEnergies, continues to contribute to Africa’s depletion of resources, pollution, and global warming. They prioritize distributing profits and dividends over providing adequate funds for climate change mitigation in Africa.
Africa requires energy, however, it does not require additional fossil fuels. Similar to Caf, it has limited alternatives. Although the continent has vast potential for utilizing renewable energy sources, it only receives a meager 2% of global investment in this sector. The fact that one of Africa’s valuable cultural assets, its lively football cultures, and this significant pan-African competition are being exploited by those who harm the continent is not only unfortunate but also criminal.
The writer of The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football and The Game of Our Lives is David Goldblatt.
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