Ex-Arsenal footballer Mathieu Flamini giving a plant-based meal to two young fans

Ex-Arsenal player makes climate change plea at Green Football Weekend event in Islington

Former Arsenal footballer Mathieu Flamini urged the sporting world to take the lead on combating climate change at a Green Football Weekend event in Islington on Sunday.

Flamini was at the Highbury Roundhouse Youth & Community Centre in support of the UK-wide initiative that looks to harness the popularity and influence of football to help reduce carbon emissions and encourage sustainability. 

The 39-year-old, who played more than 150 times across two spells for the Gunners and also turned out for Milan and the France national team, was joined at the event by TV presenter Scarlette Douglas and BOSH! chef Ian Theasby to promote the environmental benefits of plant-based food.

Flamini said: “Sport and football in particular cannot escape anymore. 

“Climate change is such a big topic and these football clubs, these big institutions, they have to adapt.

“There is a journey to take but you need a starting point. FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League — they all have a big role to play. 

“They have to be leaders in making the change.”

FOOTBALLER TURNED ENTREPRENEUR: Mathieu Flamini (left) with Arsenal teammate Mesut Özil in 2015 (Credit: joshjdss)

Flamini, known for being hard-working and tenacious on the pitch, has been equally committed off it in helping address issues of sustainability.

His passion for the environment was first ignited as a child, when he would pick up plastic on the beaches near Marseille with his father.

Then in 2008, while playing in Italy, the former midfielder co-founded GFBiochemicals, a leader in providing sustainable alternatives to companies producing oil-based products.

And Flamini insists now is the time for people to acknowledge the reality of what he considers a critical time for the health of both the planet and its population.

He said: “Babies are being born with micro plastic inside of them and already in a lot of countries like India and China, people are not allowed to train outside anymore due to the pollution.

“Most of the everyday products we are using, like shampoo, shower gel and detergent, are all made of nasty fossil fuel ingredients.

“Football is one of the last industries with the ability to unite people from all different backgrounds and so we have to use that to protect the next generation and also the game we love.”

Bringing together more 85 UK football clubs, Green Football Weekend (2-5 Feb) encouraged fans to take greener methods of transport to games and choose for more environmentally-friendly food options.

GREEN FOOTBALL WEEKEND: Fans are being urged to choose more environmentally-friendly food and transport options

Research by the University of Leeds revealed that opting for a vegetarian burger for one weekend could save in carbon emissions the equivalent of taking more than 2,500 cars off the road.

At the event in Islington, which was attended by several young Arsenal supporters, Flamini, who is vegan, appealed to clubs to make plant-based food options widely available on matchdays.

He said: “We talk about the health of the planet but it’s important to talk about the health of the people so even if they don’t necessarily care about the planet, hopefully they will care about living longer and healthier lives.

“It’s all about implementing a strategy such as giving vegetarian options to fans and also having no plastic in stadiums.

“We have a few options but the Premier League has to take the lead and inspire others to do the same.”

KICK ABOUT: Flamini, Scarlette Douglas (back left) and Ian Theasby (back right) with some young Arsenal fans

Flamini, who is on the Environmental Excellence Committee for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, also stressed the vital role athletes can play in pushing for change.

He cited Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign in 2020, as well as the work of ex-Arsenal teammates Mesut Özil and Héctor Bellerín as examples of the positive influence players can have over important social issues.

Flamini added: “For too long we have been telling players they shouldn’t speak about these issues and should only focus on kicking a ball.

“But I think that is changing and athletes now, when they have a passion, when they care about something, they stand up for that. I can see it more and more.

“They have such a large platform and they can really push strong messages and drive narratives so hopefully more athletes will stand up for what they care about.

“It’s about bringing those messages together and pushing for a longer, healthier and happier life.”

THE GUNNERS: Arsenal were one of more than 85 UK clubs taking part in Green Football Weekend

Theasby, who started BOSH! with school friend Henry Firth in 2016 and delivered a live cooking demonstration of a tofu Thai green curry at the event, agreed that football has a pivotal role in addressing climate issues.

He shared Flamini’s view that plant-based food can provide a range of health and environmental benefits.

Theasby said: “Football is arguably the biggest cultural phenomenon in human society, so getting people who are involved in football talking about the environment is fantastic.

“Plant-based food is the easiest way for someone to reduce their carbon footprint and I think it’s so important that more people are aware of the benefits.

“There are a lot of problems with obesity, diabetes and other negative health issues but I think a lot of that can be solved by having more of a whole-food, plant-based diet.

“So don’t be scared of plant-based food. In fact, see it as an opportunity to do good for yourself, the health of animals and the health of the environment.”

First image in body of text: joshjdss (CC)

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