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The Premier League’s short-haul flights crisis

Premier League clubs are taking short-haul flights to and from games despite flying being up to 30 times worse for the environment than going by coach.

An investigation by the Daily Mirror found that just a matter of weeks after Green Football Weekend, an initiative designed to help tackle climate change, Liverpool took a 33-minute flight back from Newcastle rather than a three-hour coach journey. 

The paper cited research from the University of Leeds, which found that Liverpool’s coach trip would have produced up to 135kgCO2e, compared to well over 3,000kgCO2e for the plane.

“Taking a coach would have been at least 25 times better for the climate compared with chartering the plane,” Dr Sally Cairns, from the university’s transport institute, said. “Prioritising climate change in decision making is critical if we are to meet climate targets. Sports stars, politicians and other celebrities have a key leadership role to play.”

‘World full of marginal gains’

Domestic flights “are commonplace in the Premier League, with player welfare considerations often trumping the financial cost and environmental impact”, said the Mirror. Packed fixture schedules mean clubs “sometimes feel like they are left with little choice but to fly back from far-off away games”, added the paper.

Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp argued that the Premier League’s decision to schedule a 5.30pm kick-off for their game away to Newcastle left them with no other option than to fly.

“In a world full of marginal gains, Liverpool simply could not risk arriving back to Merseyside late on Saturday evening as preparations for Real Madrid would be key,” said the Daily Express.

“Convenience is a significant factor, as is the pursuit of the best sporting conditions for elite players,” said the BBC. “A short plane journey is regarded as better for a footballer’s physical condition than a longer coach journey,” the broadcaster added. 

It’s not just Liverpool. Nottingham Forest were also criticised recently for taking a 20-minute flight to Blackpool. “Whether it is right or wrong, I think it is pretty normal for a team, in the Premier League particularly, and for a lot of Championship teams, to fly distances like that,” manager Steve Cooper told reporters.

Leeds striker Patrick Bamford told BBC Sport at the beginning of last season that he was conflicted about the number of short-haul flights taken in the Premier League. “It’s a hard one because first and foremost I’m a footballer,” he said. “There aren’t going to be many clubs who put themselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he added, saying that “ideally the things we do have to be good for the planet” but “I know it wouldn’t make sense for us to travel on the day of the game, for instance”.

‘We should be able to find a solution’

There does appear to be an awareness that action must be taken. The Premier League committed to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework in November 2021, which means it aims to cut its emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2040. 

“Generally, I think we can do better,” Chelsea manager Graham Potter told reporters earlier this season. Describing the short-haul flights as “a challenge”, Potter added: “We should be able to find a solution, definitely.”

Flying isn’t always the best option from a medical perspective as well, according to Liverpool’s former head physio Matt Konopinski. “Top teams will prioritise speed over other factors but flying is not always a good thing,” he told the BBC. “With flying, one of the things we struggle with – anecdotally – is hamstring issues,” said Konopinski. “The other negative can be when a player is already carrying swelling on the knee – that can be exacerbated.” 

In France, Paris Saint-Germain were criticised for laughing off questions about their transport choices earlier this season. The PSG coach Christophe Galtier replied sarcastically to one reporter who had questioned a short-haul flight the club had taken: “I thought I would get that question. To be very honest with you, this morning we spoke with the company that organises our trips, and we’re trying to see if we can travel by sand yacht.” 

Sitting next to Galtier at the press conference, PSG striker Kylian Mbappé “burst into laughter when he heard the question from the reporter”, said Le Monde.

Afterwards, the French sports minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said in a tweet: “M. Galtier, we’re used to more relevant and responsible answers from you – shall we talk about this?”

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