Lutz Pfannenstiel in Watson interview

Lutz Pfannenstiel is a football icon and someone who, through his own-founded organization, advocates for climate protection. In the interview, he explains existing good projects, additional steps that could be taken, and emphasizes the need for major players to take action.

Why do football and climate protection go together?

Lutz Pfannenstiel: I believe that many football clubs are aware of the power they possess. Football connects. Anyone who goes to the stadium sees that football is a reflection of society. All social classes are united at once. The message has to be conveyed correctly. What clubs exemplify is implemented by the fans. I think it's already moving in the right direction, but of course, much more can be done. Football is a game that unites the masses. Environmental protection is a topic that should unite the masses. Combining the two, I believe that Bundesliga clubs, which are also financially stable, can act as pioneers in world football.

Nowadays, there's a climate youth movement. They have attacked figures like Roger Federer through social media. Will football be affected soon?

It's possible; football is a big machine where many things can be done differently. I generally find "Fridays for Future" to be a good thing, but one must be careful that such actions are not exploited for the wrong purpose. One has to look at it from two perspectives. I believe that professional football can be optimized, and it must be optimized, but it won't happen overnight. You need good advisors and good projects. Just shouting into the woods and saying this and that must be changed without having solutions doesn't help at the end of the day.

What are the most promising projects for football clubs?

Stadium and facility construction are crucial. Much can be done with solar or recycled water. A significant point is, for example, the drinking cups in the stadium. There are tens of thousands of people in the stadium, and many clubs still use disposable cups. The amount of plastic waste that accumulates is outrageous. If everyone switched to reusable cups, it would already be a huge saving.

Clubs like Werder Bremen or Hoffenheim are already heavily involved. When will others follow?

I believe it's only a matter of time. The first clubs are leading, and it's being received very positively. "Sports 4 Future" is a beautiful project. I believe that most clubs will follow suit. But other clubs like Mainz 05 have been living it outstandingly for many, many years when it comes to climate neutrality. At Düsseldorf, we have also wondered how we can position ourselves more environmentally friendly. I compare it a bit with an election. People say, "if I go as an individual, it doesn't really matter," and that's how environmental protection is sometimes viewed. Every little thing counts, as in a snowball system; it will pay off in the end. You just have to participate and sometimes overcome yourself.

So, other clubs are too lazy to change something?

I believe that for many clubs, it's not about convenience but rather about creating the structure that needs to be established. Certain contracts must be allowed to expire; it doesn't always happen overnight.

Footballers fly a lot and drive fancy cars. Can they be good role models?

I, too, fly a lot and still fly a lot. Due to the profession, it's not otherwise possible. In any case, we compensate for our air miles, and sometimes also car journeys. For example, we plant trees, which are then offset – thus, we can reduce our CO2 footprint.

Which officials could make the most change?

All club presidents of the major leagues. For me, the English Premier League is still globally the league with the most influence and power. Their big clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United, or Arsenal have so many fans worldwide; there is no other multiplier in professional sports. That's where you have to start. The world looks at the big leagues. You can, of course, also start at the top with the associations like FIFA and UEFA, which could make statements and say, "Yes, we want to commit to the environment." Grassroots sports should also go in this direction. Football is not only about professional football.

Isn't the trend going in the wrong direction? The 2022 World Cup is in Qatar...

A winter World Cup is environmentally not ideal, with the cooling and air conditioning systems that are set up to cool down the stadiums. That is definitely an energy consumer, but it must be said clearly, football is big business, and the money earned there can be put to good use. These funds can be converted sensibly into environmental projects, where it can be very well offset. But you also have to rely on the fact that the major associations invest a lot in environmental protection and generally in climate protection. I can't imagine that it benefits football if we were to cancel a World Cup now. That is simply the trend of the times, but something good can still come out of it.

Why are you involved in climate and environmental protection?

I have been traveling a lot, seen the beautiful sides but also the really ugly sides. How humans treat nature and the environment. There are gruesome examples. This is an important point for all of us, that we use the power of football to draw attention to the problem of environmental protection. This works very, very well with Global United. Footballers have a very high role model function.

Nenn‘ doch mal konkrete Beispiele für die hässlichen Seiten, die du erlebt hast.

The way waste is handled in Southeast Asia is very, very sad. Plastic bags or bottles float everywhere in every sea or water. In every backyard, there is a fire where waste is burned. This is a topic that is omnipresent and concerns everyone. We want our children to live on a reasonable planet and not hang around in the garbage dump.

Have your strokes of fate, such as the prison sentence and near-death experience, changed you?

Definitely. Before those tough years came back then, I also thought from one day to the next. These two extreme experiences brought me to see the world differently. For me, football was my passion, my profession. Due to the innocent prison sentence and the near-death experience, I had a different focus afterward: family, being healthy and free. That is something else than training once a day and going out after the game on the weekend to "live it up." That puts things into perspective. This is how Global United was created. Football has given me so many opportunities and brought me back to life twice. For me, it was clear that I wanted to do charity – but one that makes sense. We wanted to use football to do something good instead of just presenting ourselves.

Should footballers express themselves politically?

I think that sports and politics don't really go together. Environmental protection is not political for me. It's a topic that enables the life of our next two to three generations; it's a life-sustaining measure. In general, I think that everyone should have their political opinion, but football should not be used as a platform.

Regarding world football, what is your biggest wish? Where should the lever be set to change something?

It's a mix of all the really big players in world football. For example, I wish that more collaborations are formed with organizations like ours to drive even more projects forward. Especially in areas where you can achieve a lot with very little. The African continent is predestined for this, to push certain solar energies forward. There are many possibilities, how the major umbrella organizations could be involved. But I believe the path is correctly taken.

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