In a landmark ruling from the Swiss advertising regulator, FIFA has been found guilty of greenwashing. The ruling states that FIFA was in breach of the Swiss Federal Law on Unfair Competition, which could constitute a criminal offence in some jurisdictions like the UK.
The ruling states that FIFA, who claimed that the 2022 Qatar World Cup would be the first “fully carbon neutral FIFA World Cup”,1 was guilty of misleading consumers over the environmental impact of the tournament and the methods used to reduce the emissions associated with the tournament. The 2022 Qatar World Cup faced heavy criticism at the time that the carbon offsets it was planning to use were of poor quality and unlikely to cut emissions, while the carbon accounting methods were deemed questionable. Despite all this, FIFA remains a signatory to the UN’s Sport for Climate Framework.
The ruling comes after advertising complaints were submitted in November 2022 in five different jurisdictions, including the UK, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The national advertising regulators subsequently passed the complaints onto the Swiss regulator, where FIFA is based. Alongside the complaints an open letter was sent to FIFA from players and sports organisations around the world, including Union Berlin player and founder of We Play Green Morten Thorsby, UK player David Wheeler from the Wycombe Wanderers FC, Swedish player, Elin Landström from AS Roma and Zoe Morse from Chicago Red Stars in the US.
Today’s landmark ruling states that FIFA must “refrain in future from making the contested allegations, unless it can provide, at the time of communication, full proof of the calculation, using generally accepted methods, of all CO2 emissions caused by the tournament, and proof that these CO2 emissions have been fully offset". The Swiss authority added that FIFA had not provided "credible evidence of how all CO2 emissions generated by the tournament could be offset in accordance with Swiss standards".
Recent analysis from Carbon Market Watch found that FIFA has offset less than half of what they were supposed to cover to support their highly misleading “carbon neutral” claim. In addition, one of the major projects that FIFA and the Qatar World Cup had intended to use to offset approximately half of its emissions was a solar power plant. However, it does not appear that this project is even registered under a standard or certified by a third party and, therefore, does not generate any carbon credits.
The Swiss standards are the same as those applied in most other European jurisdictions, including the UK, as based on the International Chamber of Commerce’s Advertising and Marketing Communications Code. FIFA’s carbon-neutral claims were made on its website and social network, thus targeting international audiences beyond the Swiss consumers. As
such, the ruling constitutes a solid basis for any UK watchdog to take a similar approach. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has recently announced stricter enforcement over corporate carbon-neutral claims.
Andrew Simms, director of the New Weather Institute, the organisation that submitted the UK complaint against FIFA, said: “FIFA has been found out for using false green claims as a substitute for real climate action. This ruling is further proof that people are seeing through greenwash and that flaky carbon neutral claims will get quickly called out. Regulators are slowly waking up to the scale of the issue and the threat it poses by sowing confusion to genuine efforts to tackle climate change. Big polluters are realising they are on borrowed time.
“But to protect people and nature, there’s an urgent need for more robust and proactive regulation to stamp out greenwash and cut the harm done by high-carbon advertising. Sport continues to be used as a giant billboard by some of the biggest climate culprits to promote polluting products and lifestyles, threatening the future of athletes, fans and the sport itself. It’s time that sport, and its governing bodies like FIFA, used their power and position to accelerate the low carbon transition, instead of delaying it and misleading the public in the process.”
Frank Huisingh of Fossil Free Football, the organisation that submitted the complaint in the Netherlands, said: "This is a very important decision. FIFA can no longer mislead the world that its World Cup in Qatar was carbon neutral. This should be the moment FIFA begins taking credible climate action, which must start with breaking ties with big polluters, such as their sponsors QatarEnergy and Qatar Airways.”
“The next step is a serious plan to reduce the emissions of its tournaments. That includes choosing locations with existing infrastructure, ensuring fans can travel between host cities with low-carbon transport and focusing ticket sales on local fans. Serious climate action by FIFA is long overdue, hopefully this decision pushes them to do better.”
1‘Sustainability’, FIFA, https://www.fifa.com/social-impact/sustainability
● The Swiss advertising regulator has issued a ruling that the carbon-neutral claims surrounding the Qatar World Cup were misleading to consumers following complaints being lodged in the UK, Switzerland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
● The ruling recommends that FIFA "refrain in future from making the contested allegations, unless it can provide, at the time of communication, full proof of the calculation, using generally accepted methods, of all CO2 emissions caused by the tournament, and proof that these CO2 emissions have been fully offset".
● The ruling states that FIFA was in breach of the Swiss Federal Law on Unfair Competition, which could constitute a criminal offence in some jurisdictions.
For media enquiries, please contact Freddie Daley on +447508 243644 or email@example.com