The debate on private flights unleashed by Mbappé: is it time for footballers to travel by train?

They burst out laughing in the face of a proposal as serious in the midst of the climate crisis as changing planes for trains for short journeys. The images of the Paris Saint Germain (PSG) player Kylian Mbappé and his coach, Christophe Galtier, have gone around the world and have unleashed a wave of reactions in France that has focused on the disproportionate role played by private planes, commonly used by athletes and celebrities, in global pollution. A debate led by the neighboring country that has not yet reached Spain, where football clubs also often use aviation.

The controversy arose at a press conference last Monday, when a journalist asked PSG members why the team had used a plane to play a game and move from Paris to Nantes, separated by about 380 kilometers. Neither the striker nor Galtier could contain their laughter as the latter replied wryly. “We are seeing if we can go sailing by car,” he blurted out. the question came following a comment from the director of TGVthe company that manages high speed in France, which offered the team the train, much less polluting, for a journey that is "less than two hours" on this type of railway.

The reactions have not been long in coming in the country. Not only have environmental organizations and groups criticized Mbappé's mockery and his technician, it has also outraged several members of the French government. The Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, has called on soccer players to "become fully aware" of the climate crisis, while the Sports Minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, reproached Galtier for having given a response that was not "responsible". The Minister of Ecological Transition has also entered the matter, as well as the Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, who called for "we all take climate change seriously."

The issue has practically become a state affair in France because it coincides with an open debate in the country on the relevance of regulating private aviation, something that the country's Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, has been in favor of.

A few days earlier, the NGO Attac pointed to another PSG player, the Argentine Leo Messi, whom he accused of making 52 flights with his private jet since last June and thereby emitting "1,502 tons of CO2", "as much as a French in 150 years”. The Celebrity Jets Twitter account monitors the private plane flights of celebrities, especially in the United States. Among them, the singer Drake, the rapper Travis Scott or the screenwriter Steven Spielberg and in the vast majority of cases, they are short transfers of less than an hour.

Traveling in this way is one of the sources of CO2 emissions that hides the most inequality: it is a small group of people who contribute to climate change by expelling a large amount of gases during their flights. "At a time of climate emergency, for reasons of consistency and the need to reduce fuel consumption, private aviation is nonsense that does not fit into our day-to-day lives and is justified only in very few cases," he believes. Adrián Fernández, head of mobility at Greenpeace.

According to an analysis by the organization Common Wealth, which advocates a ban on private flights based on fossil fuels by 2025 – and that they be replaced by electricity – “a standard private plane trip within the EU emits ten times more CO2 per traveler than if it is done on a regular flight”. The NGO Transport & Environment has also addressed the issue in a recent report that concludes that just one hour of private jet flight emits two tons of CO2. For comparison, the net emission for each citizen in a whole year was 5.8 tons in Spain in 2019.

Data from the European Environment Agency indicates that transport represents around a quarter of the total emissions in the European Union, the vast majority coming from road transport (72%), which is used by the majority of the population . Maritime transport and aviation represent 14% and 13% of emissions, respectively, and the railway stands as the most sustainable means, with 0.4% of emissions.

However, in relative terms, the emissions gap is evident: if the amount of emissions per passenger and kilometer traveled by different means of transport is taken into account, someone who travels by plane with 87 other people pollutes almost three times more than someone who does it by car with another passenger and 20 times more than another who uses the train with 155 others. The European agency estimates that, in one kilometer, the person who travels by plane emits 285 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere, the who goes by car expels 104 grams and the one who travels by train hardly emits 14 grams.

The open debate in France does not seem to have yet landed in our country, which the Transport & Environment organization places as the fifth with the highest use of private flights in Europe. The first is the United Kingdom and the second is the Gallic country. “It is an issue that should not only be opened in Spain, it is that it will end up arriving,” believes Fernández, who urges the “urgent” reduction of air transport “to achieve climate objectives.”

He says so because the imposition of a tax on kerosene, currently not subject to taxes, for all flights within the EU is currently being debated within the European Commission. Even so, ecologists and experts call for greater ambition: "The best use of aviation is not to use aviation," says the doctor in Biology and CSIC researcher Fernando Valladares. In his opinion, this means of transport must be drastically cut as soon as possible until it is used only "as a last resort".

The controversy that arose from the laughter of Mbappé and the PSG coach have put the spotlight on the world of high-competition sports and, specifically, on football, a sector that frequently uses the plane to travel to play matches. In fact, the French Minister of Transport used a soccer reference just one day before the press conference to talk about the matter. And she precisely referred to a Spanish team, Real Betis, which she praised for having reached an agreement with Renfe to travel by train to their appointments away from home.

This is, at the moment, the only Spanish team that has assumed the commitment, for which all the squads, both female and male, have discounts to travel. However, as confirmed by the rail transport company to this newspaper, it is currently holding talks with other first division clubs to achieve similar collaboration agreements, although it has not given more details about which teams are looking for transport alternatives.

This does not mean that they do not use the train for any of their outings, but the one with Betis represents a pioneering pact. ElDiario.es has asked more first division teams about their mobility criteria and about the number of matches they travel to by plane or train within the Peninsula, but has not received answers. The clubs have also been criticized for, on many occasions, also mobilizing their bus fleets to pick them up at the airports and take them to the stadiums and travel hundreds of empty kilometers to get to their meeting.

The agreements with Renfe have intensified in recent years, at a time of unprecedented climate emergency. According to the company, it maintains a total of about 100 agreements with clubs and federations. In LaLiga Smartbank (Second Division), for example, Leganés has an agreement like Betis. Beyond football, in basketball, teams such as Unicaja de Málaga or Movistar Estudiantes "use the train on their journeys around the Peninsula", and also other rugby and handball teams, which he does not specify.

Most of the Spanish federations, such as football or basketball, as well as the Higher Sports Council, use Renfe for their trips, they add. And also in the sports framework, Renfe is the official transport for mass events such as the Madrid and Malaga marathons, and for other types of entities such as the Real Madrid Veterans Association.

The theme of the week in French sport has also reopened another debate: to what extent those who are role models for the population should set an example. The experts have no doubts. Valladares calls for "zero tolerance" towards this type of attitude and also a rectification. “Society looks at them and they have not lived up to this joke. They could rectify and they have not. The best way to do this is by changing your posture and your mobilization strategy. That is, go by public transport, ”he points out.

From Greenpeace, Fernández expresses himself along the same lines. “It is dangerous and counterproductive. Although private aviation represents few emissions with respect to the total, it has a very important weight because it is useless to ask people to make changes in behavior if they see that those who have a privileged economic position are not capable of assuming them and with these gestures squander any improvement that we can try the rest of society, "he says.

For this reason, organizations and experts call for a future that considerably reduces the use of aviation. Making it sustainable, they say, is a very complex challenge. "There are not many other ways to use it for emergencies and situations in which an urgent use of transport is justified," insists Valladares, who predicts that, in a very short time, our way of doing tourism will also change.

What is not clear is whether the way we move between countries, for example, will change because quota systems are implemented, out of sheer awareness or because of the extreme rise in fuel prices. “Before they are unaffordable for many people, we would have to find a way that, even if they can afford it, many people stop flying. So clear. Voluntarily or by a quota system.

Valladares also believes that it is time to rethink the magnitude of airports and discard any project that aims to expand this type of polluting facility. “In Barcelona they are thinking about the extension of El Prat, for example, and that is completely out of its time. The first thing to do is review any expansion project”, he defends.



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