● Weather patterns linked to climate change, such as heavy rain, cause five cancellations or postponements a year for each amateur team in the UK
● ‘Deep concern’ that – without a clearer Government plan to mitigate the worst effects of climate change – participation in grassroots football could plummet within 60 years
● The research from The Climate Coalition marks the start of Great Big Green Week, a UK-wide celebration of climate action
● The grassroots football community, led by Birmingham County FA, are backing ‘The Fight That Unites’, coming together for the common goal of protecting nature and the environment
Extreme weather patterns linked to climate change are responsible for over 62,500* grassroots football match cancellations or postponements every year, a new study** reveals. This has prompted warnings that, without a clearer Government plan on how to tackle climate change, participation in the amateur game could dry up within 60 years.
Research from The Climate Coalition to mark the start of Great Big Green Week – a UK-wide week of climate action – shows that, on average, every amateur football club in the country is hit with five cancellations or postponements every year because of weather such as heavy rain, flooding and ice. This rises to an average of seven matches in Wales, the most affected area of the UK.
Extreme weather patterns are becoming more frequent in the UK, with 2020 the first year ever to rank among the hottest and wettest on record, and academics at The Met Office commenting that ‘we are seeing an emerging pattern of more high temperatures and more extreme rainfall’***. Meanwhile, the latest science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it is an ‘established fact’ that extreme weather conditions are linked to a rise in greenhouse gases****.
Nearly three fifths (58%) of those involved in grassroots football – from players and coaches to volunteers and fans – say the impact of adverse weather on the amateur game has worsened in the past five years. Among this group, people estimate that 42% more games are called off because of adverse weather now than they were in 2016. In Wales, the estimate is 72%.
Beyond the postponement or cancellation of matches, other issues caused by extreme weather include training sessions being called off (cited by 53% of those involved in grassroots football), reduced crowd numbers (51%) and difficulty finding match officials (51%).
‘Deep concern’ about future participation levels
However, the most troubling finding of the study is the impact that climate-linked weather has on participation in ‘the beautiful game’ at a grassroots level. Among current amateur players, nearly three quarters (72%) say they are put off playing football in extreme weather, with 80% of this group saying they’ve already cut back on their playing time. Any reduction in football participation due to weather conditions would contribute towards an ongoing trend: for example, Sport England figures show that people over 16 playing football fell from 2.3 million in 2016 to 1.9 million in 2020*****.
Leading charities including The Climate Coalition are now calling for unprecedented action at the COP26 climate summit to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above normal. It is also calling for the UK Government toto stop new fossil fuel projects at home and abroad. Progress in these areas would limit the damage that extreme weather does to grassroots sports including football.
Fiona Dear, Head of Campaigns at The Climate Coalition, said: “Top football players may be global superstars, but they represent only the tip of the pyramid. Grassroots football remains the lifeblood of the game and a key way that many people keep fit, socialise and stay close to their community.
“That’s what makes our findings so alarming. Extreme weather conditions linked to climate change are already having a disruptive impact on the grassroots game, but we’ve also got deep concern about future participation levels. With The Met Office predicting that the UK could have between 70% and 100% more rain by 2080 – under 60 years away – it’s not beyond reason that participation in the grassroots game could all but vanish by that point.
“That’s why Great Big Green Week is so important. People from all walks of life – no matter who they are, where they’re from or which football team they support – are putting differences aside to celebrate a love for the environment. They’re also sending a clear message to the Prime Minister ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate talks in November: we care about climate change, and we need you to deliver a clear plan to limit a rise in temperatures, and to stop floods, heatwaves and droughts getting even worse. Football is one part of British life that would benefit hugely from more ambitious Government climate policies.”
Football community pulls together for ‘The Fight That Unites’
In response to The Climate Coalition’s findings, grassroots football authorities from across the UK, led by Birmingham County Football Association, are participating in ‘The Fight That Unites’ for Great Big Green Week. This will involve sharing content across channels including social media, matchday programmes, websites and newsletters that urge fans to come together and protect people, places and nature. In addition, they are also encouraging all their leagues, clubs and teams to “Pass” on the car for football journeys less than 2 miles, using more active & sustainable ways to travel and recording their commitment via the Pledgeball digital platform.
Richard Lindsay, Business Insights Manager at Birmingham County FA, said: “There are great parallels between football and climate action. Both are topics that people in the UK are hugely passionate about, and both have the power to bring people together at a time when divisions in society have never been more visible.
“At Birmingham County FA, we’re proud to have launched our ‘Save Today, Play Tomorrow’ programme to create and deliver lower carbon football in the West Midlands. During Great Big Green Week, we’ll be focusing on travel & transport which forms the largest part of footballs footprint. If we want the grassroots game to thrive long into the future, now is the time for people to come together and take steps to preserve it.”
For more information on Great Big Green Week and to find events in your community, visit www.greatbiggreenweek.com
* Utilita estimates there are 40,000 amateur football teams in the UK. 58% of people involved with amateur football teams say their team’s matches are cancelled or postponed because of adverse weather linked to climate change, giving 23,300 teams affected. An average of 5.39 games postponed or cancelled per club gives 125,048, divided by 2 to account for each game involving 2 teams (and removing any potential duplication) = 62,524 matches overall
** The Climate Coalition commissioned One Poll to conduct research among 1,201 people who have involvement with an amateur football team in September 2021
*** Source: https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/joc.7285
**** Source: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/
***** Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/934866/football-participation-uk/