French football star in UEFA’s Cleaner Air, Better Game workshop

 After hanging up his boots on a football career that brought accolades at club and international level, France’s Mathieu Flamini has dedicated his life to an altogether bigger goal – saving the planet.

French football star in UEFA’s Cleaner Air, Better Game workshop

Even as a midfielder for France, Arsenal and AC Milan, Flamini was a prominent voice on the climate and the environment, setting up biotech company GF Biochemicals to produce sustainable products with minimal impact on air pollution. More recently, he helped to establish Europe’s first Masters' degree in bioeconomy in Italy and is also part of France's efforts to ensure the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris sets new standards for sustainability

This week, Flamini has lent his support to UEFA's Cleaner Air, Better Game campaign, which has used the visibility of UEFA’S European Under-21 Championship finals in Hungary and Slovenia – both its group and knockout stages - to highlight the threat of air pollution.

On 7 June, Flamini will take part in Cleaner Air, Better Game’s keynote event - a virtual climate and environment workshop assessing football’s role in highlighting climate emergency and promoting sustainability. He will be joined by UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Lučka Kajfež Bogataj, and other climate and environmental experts .

In this Q&A, Flamini discusses his support for Cleaner Air, Better Game, his environmental activism and his hope that football and its biggest stars can make a positive difference to key global issues.

Mathieu, what made you want to become involved in environmental issues?

"I grew up by the sea, in between Corsica and Marseille and, from a very early age, I've been very much aware of the impact of humankind on the environment and, also understanding that small changes put together will have a huge impact, I decided to basically spend some of my time and be part of the solution and to be part of the movement that brings the solution to such an important cause.

When did you realise that the planet faces a climate emergency?

"I think the last few years have been a very difficult time, because we're getting to an emergency and we have to react today.

"In 2018, I joined the community of Young Global Leaders and had the opportunity to go to Greenland with the World Economic Forum with 25 people and a team of scientists. I had the opportunity to see with my own eyes the ice melting in Greenland and, obviously, when you see that with your own eyes, it makes you realise that you have to change, you have to have a positive impact - and not tomorrow, you have to have it today.

"If we continue like that, millions of people will be displaced because of something people maybe don't realise. The sea-level rising by one to one-and-a-half metres could displace around 300 million people globally. It is very important to realise that we don't have time anymore."

What area of sustainability interests you the most?

"I like to point at solutions, not just problems. One of the main interests I have around sustainability is trying to tackle the products that we are using every single day. They are made of harmful chemicals, products and ingredients which are harmful for people on the planet. What I'm trying to do is identify these products and substitute them for safer products that have less impact on the environment. These could be personal care products, home care products, cleaning products that we use every single day.

"The second aspect, which is also very important for me, is our lifestyle. We practice lifestyles which are not sustainable. The way we consume, the way we eat. In 2050, all those things will lead to no more fish in the sea. The way we eat, in terms of eating more and more animal protein, is becoming a real problem, because we are cutting down the Amazon forest in order to feed the animals. So, I think these two aspects are very important and that's where you can make important changes.

"I really hope that the people out there realise that we don't have to change tomorrow, we have to change today. That is a global effort and, at the end of the day, small changes, made every single day, can be put together and have a major impact.

What role do you think football can play in raising awareness about the planet’s health?

"I think football has a very important role to play. Football is the most followed sport on a global scale. Football has the power to unite people. Football is about emotion, it's about love and I think football has the power to create global awareness and to help people change their behaviours.

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