'Football will be affected by a world that's not working' - Sampdoria star Thorsby on fighting climate change

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Morten Thorsby
The Norway international tells GOAL in an exclusive interview why the global game needs to do more to protect the environment

“When I started speaking about the climate crisis seven years ago, people were laughing at me; they didn't understand,” Sampdoria midfielder Morten Thorsby tells GOAL.

“Now, I feel like people understand more and are starting to realise that we have to act."

Football has undeniably been too slow to react to this environmental emergency but it is finally starting to mobilise, with the effects of climate change now being felt all over the planet because of extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels.

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"Football has long been seen as something that exists outside of all the things happening around us in society," Thorby says.

"But, I think football is starting to realise that we will all have huge problems. Football will be affected by a world that's not working.

"In a climate disaster, or in a future where we don't solve the climate crisis, football will, I believe, have huge problems existing in the way it does today."

Football, with its vast influence on young people across the globe, has already proven in the past that it can play a positive role in changing attitudes towards major social problems such as racism and inequality.

Thorsby is, thus, optimistic that something similar can happen with climate change if more players, clubs and coaches speak out on the issue.

"It will happen from the ground up," he adds. "UEFA and FIFA will only change when they see this is a growing issue among the football community.

"And then we're looking to the fans. When you look at how they stopped the Super League, we see that they have a huge influence. They can make a difference because without the fans, football is nothing.

"We need to get the fans to start caring and we do that by using footballers and the clubs to spread this message because they have the platform to do this and the possibility to influence the fanbase to actually change the game.

"Football is a game where the fans decide what it wants to be. The fans decide what kind of football they want. If the fans want environmentally-friendly football, we will have it."

Thorsby is doing what he can to raise awareness. He wears the No.2 shirt for Sampdoria to draw attention to the target of the internationally-adopted Paris Agreement of keeping global warming "well below" two degrees centigrade.

He also won the FIFPRO Merit Award in 2021 for his climate activism after launching We Play Green – an environmental football movement aimed at creating more sustainable attitudes and actions.

And the 26-year-old, who has been campaigning since he was a player at Dutch club Heerenveen, says everyone can make a difference in this bid to better protect the planet.

"There are so many things we could start to do in our own personal lives that would not only change your own carbon footprint, but would also change the way people around you think," he says.

"People think of changing as something that only changes yourself, but it changes all the people around you like family and friends.

"Implementing new actions – like maybe starting to eat differently, more vegan food, driving an electric car or finding other ways to travel – all these things that we could do in our daily lives actually change the behaviour of the people around us."

Thorsby's goal now is to now bring other players, clubs and governing bodies on board in the hope of revolutionising the way in which football deals with climate change.

FIFA and UEFA have both committed to helping football match the global goals of a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.

Meanwhile, at club level, there are also great examples of what can be done, such as Forest Green Rovers, the world's first carbon-neutral football club, and Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg, who run off 100% renewable energy and also encourage fans and staff to travel to matches by bike or public transport.

"I do believe football people want to do something, but it's a complex problem," Thorsby adds.

"We're in a phase where we have to see change, and UEFA starting to speak out and FIFA starting to bring something to the table.

"But I don't believe it will have any effect until sustainability and other things become a core part of the strategy and the business model of football. Otherwise, it will always be an after-thought."

Prominent footballers could also play a major role but Thorsby understands if some feel ill-equipped to tackle the issue or fear being accused of hypocrisy.

After all, many footballers travel all over the world for matches or are compromised by sponsorship agreements, but he says that shouldn't stop them being free to speak out.

"It's a touchy issue and I understand players who have this problem," Thorsby admits. "But I do believe we have to push to try to do as much as possible.

"Football players could feel, 'I cannot speak out because I'm not perfect. I'm flying and I'm doing all these things wrong.'

"But nobody is perfect and we're not asking anybody to be perfect. You just have to want to improve, to want to become better.

"We have to be at zero carbon emissions in 2050 – not tomorrow. We have time to improve, to change, so that's my core message when I speak to these players.

"It's just important that they understand this as a problem and that they want to use their voice to speak out, to actually get this message out there.

"And I see now that players and clubs are starting to realise that it's not actually a problem to make themselves heard. I really do believe that in the next few years a lot more will do so."

Thorsby has spoken with the Norwegian prime minister, the Italian environment minister and the European Commission's Frans Timmermans, who is leading the work on a Green Deal and its first European Climate Law.

He has also participated in plastic collections in Genoa, while hiking around the mountains of northern Italy above the Mediterranean Sea on days off is a reminder of what exactly he's trying to preserve.

"I get energised from these types of moments," he says. "When I'm with nature, I see the beauty and intimacy of something worth fighting for.

"It's an incredible world we live in and what nature provides us is something extraordinary. I think if people really were aware and they saw this beauty, they would take much better care of it because it's so incredible.

"I think we lost that connection. So, I want to really try to reconnect us with nature."

Thorsby is helping football to finally see its influential role in helping to address the climate emergency. Nobody is laughing at him anymore, which is a sign of progress in itself.