As I write this blog today, it almost three months since I watched the relentless Giorgio Chiellini lift the Henri Delaunay trophy above his head after Italy beat England in a penalty shootout at Wembley to win EURO 2020. Whilst the final saw the curtain drawn on a month-long competition of 51 football matches, this was also the conclusion of 5 years of planning and delivery by UEFA and my organisation, Healthy Stadia, to ensure that the tournament would be played out at tobacco-free stadia across its 11 host nations.
Of course, planning for this event should have been just four years, and even with the tournament delayed until 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly curtailed the nature and scale of interventions we had planned to support implementation of a tobacco-free tournament utilising Healthy Stadia’s Tobacco-Free Stadia Guidance published in 2016. Planned interventions included: in-depth training of stewards and volunteers; a yellow and red card enforcement framework; and, an observer-based monitoring system for all host venues. Whilst a rigorous evaluation of the policy was not possible under the circumstances, we are aware from fan feedback and venue security managers that compliance with the tournament’s tobacco-free stadia policy was strong, despite national or regional smoke-free law not covering semi-enclosed sports venues in Copenhagen, Munich, Rome and Seville, and relatively poor levels of enforcement for domestic football at venues in Baku, Budapest and Bucharest.
It may seem somewhat surprising and anachronistic for many readers in countries and regions that have implemented smoke-free laws to think of fans and staff using lit tobacco products inside venues. However, the issue of second-hand smoke exposure at sports stadia is still a significant problem in continental Europe, with 2019 research conducted by Healthy Stadia revealing that 45.3% (n=24) of UEFA’s 53 member associations do not currently have smoke-free laws that cover semi-enclosed sports stadia. In the majority of cases, this can be put down to a weakness in national or regional smoke-free law, as internal sports arenas for sports such as basketball or hand ball are declared smoke-free.
The encouraging news is that when Healthy Stadia last conducted research on smoke-free policies at European football stadia in 2014, only 10 countries had comprehensive tobacco-free policies covering all areas across their venues, compared to 29 countries in 2019. Whilst much of this will be aligned to greater coverage of national and regional smoke-free legislation, there has certainly been a greater recognition by clubs, leagues and national associations of the need for football stadia in continental Europe to adopt smoke-free policies either in part or in totality, and Healthy Stadia has worked with leagues and national associations in the Netherlands and Belgium to support them adopt voluntary, but rigorous smoke-free policies that exceed the reach of national smoke-free law.
Indeed, the ability for clubs and venues to implement voluntary smoke-free policies through mechanisms such as stadium regulations, conditions of sale for tickets, and non-financial penalties (e.g. ejection from stadium), is an area Healthy Stadia has focussed on in a new framework intended to empower football organisations through a Tobacco-Free Declaration that has been endorsed by UEFA and the WHO. The Declaration has been co-designed with representatives from stadia, league operators and WHO, and informed by the work Healthy Stadia has carried out for UEFA competition finals including, EURO 2016 and both Europa and Champions League Finals that have, in the main, been hosted at venues that are not covered by national smoke-free legislation.
The Declaration was officially launched in March 2021 alongside Healthy Stadia’s advocacy call for all football settings, both professional and grassroots, to be tobacco-free by 2025. Our immediate task is to work with UEFA to implement rigorous smoke-free regulations across all of their competitions, not just UEFA competition finals that are currently covered by this policy. We have also started working with national tobacco control NGOs such as Alliance Contre Le Tabac in France who are campaigning for all sports and venues to become tobacco-free, and will be engaging with the governing bodies of sport for football and rugby over 2022. We believe that by taking a duel top down and bottom up approach, with UEFA as European governing body of football and NGOs actively pushing the tobacco-free football agenda, we will be able to accelerate the number of countries operating venues that are not subject to second-hand smoke, and clean air at football matches will be the norm across Europe.
Matthew Philpott, PhD is Executive Director of the European Healthy Stadia Network. Healthy Stadia is a not-for-profit organisation working to develop sports venues as health promoting settings, and harnessing the power of sport to enable populations to lead healthier lifestyles.