In England, the “greenest football club in the world”

In the south of England evolves a very particular football club. Playing in League One, the third English division, the Forest Green Rovers are considered to be one of the most advanced sports organizations in terms of ecology. Awarded by the UN in 2019 as the “the greenest club in the world”he relies, among other things, on his pesticide-free lawn, his solar panels and his 100% vegan canteen to confirm his notoriety.

A club recognized for its action

British Commonwealth Sports Minister from 2020 to 2022, Nigel Huddleston did not fail to salute the club’s unprecedented efforts: “Forest Green Rovers have rightly been recognized by the United Nations and Fifa as pioneers among eco-responsible football clubs, and it is great to see their initiatives being adopted within the League,” he rejoiced in November 2021, during a meeting preceding COP26, in Glasgow. “These initiatives put football clubs forward, demonstrating their actions for the planet. »

It remains to be seen whether this virtuous model can be reproduced elsewhere. “Not all clubs have a wealthy man at their head who is aware and invested in ecological issues as is the case for Forest Green Rovers”, warns Antoine Miche, president of the Football Ecology France association, which campaigns for ecological football. While pointing out that money is not what is missing in football. “Since it’s there, you might as well use it for good reasons”, he pleads.

A possibility and even a duty in the eyes of the president of Forest Green Rovers, Dale Vince. “Business and business got us in this mess (ecological). So business has to get us out of it”, he launched in November 2021 in a promotional video.

Combining sports results and environmental results

In twenty-five years, the wealthy entrepreneur, who built his empire in the wind sector, has seen mentalities change. “When I started twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t even buy green energy in the world,” he remembers in an interview given to the British media The New European. “Today it’s everywhere and the technology has matured, it’s become the cheapest form of energy we can produce. The last frontier in solving sustainable development issues lies in political decision-making. »

While political will is essential, some club and league leaders fear that environmental issues will take precedence over sporting issues. Wrongly, according to Antoine Miche. “Forest Green Rovers have proven that you can achieve positive sporting and non-sporting results in the sameno time, underlines the president of the Football Ecology France association. Each year, the club progresses by climbing into a higher league while remaining true to its image of the greenest club in the world. »



Are major sporting events compatible with environmental issues?

► “Stop the race for ever more disproportionate events”

Arnaud Gauffier, director of programs at WWF France

Like any human activity, sport has an impact on the environment, but the multiplication of sporting events combined with the race for scale maximizes the consequences. They cause mass air travel, to and between the sites where the events take place. They consume huge amounts of material and energy resources.

Will the pressure exerted on the environment lead us to eliminate major events and limit ourselves to local or national competitions? Coming to such extremes would be a loss and a failure that we cannot resolve. Especially since the solutions exist: benchmark sporting events are already demonstrating this through actions that, in particular, reduce the environmental footprint.

These first signals form the basis of a movement that must extend and reach all circles of the sports and events ecosystem, the model of which must be thoroughly redesigned around three axes: less, better and differently.

We must do less: stop the race for ever more disproportionate events, eliminate useless or redundant competitions, reduce the number of teams and athletes involved in the events, but also avoid aberrations such as ski slopes on sites that have never seen snow or grassy pitches where it doesn’t rain…

We must also do better: mobilize exclusively virtuous means (eco-construction, energy sobriety, circular economy, sustainable mobility, etc.) and become a benchmark for other sectors.

Finally, we must do otherwise: involve all the players, including sponsors and public decision-makers. The environmental imperative must be integrated into the model of major sporting events as a contributory lever rather than being considered as a brake.

Failing to implement the appropriate actions, the consequences of climate change will not fail to impose themselves on sports practice at all levels – school, amateur, professional – and make us pay the price of inaction. The rise in temperatures can, on its own, impact the performance of athletes and endanger their health, cause a population to lose up to 2 months of sports practice and condemn certain sports sites and equipment, in particular nautical.

There is still time to act to honor the motto which, beyond Olympism, inspires all competitors and unites human communities in the love of sport. Yes, the time has come to do “less, better and differently” to, together, continue to go “faster, higher, stronger”

► “Encourage reasonable candidates”

Vincent Chaudelsports economist and Vice-President of the Sport and Citizenship think tank

In essence, major international competitions generate the travel of athletes, their supervision and, most often, the arrival of national media and fans. It is difficult in these conditions to make them exemplary events in environmental terms. Victims of their success, they continue to grow and therefore increase their need for infrastructure, travel and consumables.

As for sports bodies, their interest is to develop their geographical and media coverage via these meetings for which they ensure that there is always a “legacy”. Too often, this objective translates into stone: a stadium, a swimming pool, an arena, an airport… But in the face of geopolitical tensions, it is difficult to deprive yourself of their symbolic and peaceful significance.

More than responsible candidacies, reasonable candidacies should be favored. If Fifa had asked Qatar to share the organization of the 22e World Cup with one of its neighbours, there might have been fewer stadiums and hotels to build and therefore less pressure and controversy. The ideal would be to designate one or more host countries with only a few new buildings to build. In this, Paris 2024 could well become a benchmark for major international sporting events.



Greener stadiums, is it possible?

What could be less ecological than a stadium welcoming tens of thousands of supporters for a sporting event? A Ligue 1 match alone generates around ten tonnes of waste; to water lawns, millions of cubic meters of water are needed every year; and hundreds of tons of CO2 are issued to transport the public to each day of the championship.

While eyes will turn in a few days to the air-conditioned stadiums erected by Qatar for the World Cup, some structures in France are already trying to green. With their hybrid lawns, the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roofs or even a rainwater recovery system, they claim eco-responsible behavior.

A growing awareness

Model clubs in terms of sustainable development? Antoine Miche, president of the Football Ecology France association, seems skeptical. “We can of course cite Lorient, which has bet on geothermal energy, or the stadiums of Lyon and Nice, which are renowned for their water recovery system. In reality, they all have their particularity, but not enough to be set up as a model”, emphasizes this specialist. While hoping that the Brest stadium, which should undergo a considerable renovation in the next few years, will be an exception.

“Overall, we can feel a growing awareness in clubs and leagues on environmental issues, believes the former international rugby player Julien Pierre, himself very committed to this subject. But their willingness to take responsibility is not enough. “85% of the stadiums belong to the communities, the effort must come from the top”, he believes.

It remains to pay the price. But today, cities do not provide sufficient resources to properly renovate sports arenas, according to Antoine Miche. “Investments to make stadiums greener run into tens of millions of euros. Cities that are in favor of it often find themselves confronted with a metropolis that does not want it; Or vice versa. Difficult, under these conditions, to obtain sufficient subsidies”, he laments.

Hybrid lawn versus artificial lawn

Despite these political uncertainties, Bertrand Picard, founder of Natural Grass, the French leader in the construction of high-level hybrid lawns, wants to believe that the world of sport will change. “We are constantly approached by clubs looking for solutions to adapt to climate change and to reduce their environmental footprint, he testifies. Our customers are a reflection of society: clubs and leagues obviously want to reduce their environmental impact, but to do so they need solutions that work. »

The hybrid turf specialist speaks with knowledge, because the technology it develops partly embodies the future of stadiums. By hybrid lawn, understand a 100% natural lawn, rooted in a substrate reinforced at the level of the roots by less than 1% of synthetic fibers, kinds of artificial roots allowing a better anchoring of the lawn. The opposite of synthetic turf, made up of 100% plastic materials.

“Hybrid lawns also allow their neighbors to benefit from the benefits of natural grass: combating heat islands through evapotranspiration (the lawn becomes a real natural air conditioner)CO capture2(up to 15 tons per year)dust filtration, retention and filtering of storm water, biodiversity…”, adds Bertrand Picard. According to him, the additional economic cost“about 20%”is offset by lower maintenance costs over the long term.

Access to the stadium, the construction site of tomorrow

For two years, an environmental label, the first in the sports field, certifies the commitment of clubs in terms of ecology. Created by Julien Pierre, Fair Play for Planet defends an economic and social development model concerned with the environment through 350 criteria. Among them, that of the accessibility of sports arenas: “The big subject of tomorrow’s stadiums lies in how to get there”, says the former professional player.

Focusing on carpooling and the accessibility of public transport, the latter regrets that many stadiums are far from urban centers. Although some clubs have set up reduced fares, or even free access, for access to public transport on match nights, the share of spectators coming to the stadium by this means does not exceed 9%, according to figures from the think Sport and citizenship tank.

Sporting events, accelerators of change?

At a time when most observers point to the environmental aberration of the World Cup in Qatar, Julien Pierre calls for a more global reflection on the holding of major sporting events. “Perhaps we should think about regionalizing things, doing less but better, he suggests. The world of sport represents only 1% of greenhouse gas emissions, but it has an exceptional power of communication. You have to surf on it. »

On the Qatar side, the carbon footprint presented by FIFA, equivalent to 3.6 million tonnes of CO2, is once again contested. According to calculations by the company specializing in the assessment of the carbon footprint of major events, Greenly, the competition should release the equivalent of 6 million tonnes into the atmosphere. A result almost twice that envisaged by the international federation. Infrastructure alone represents 27% of the carbon footprint, according to the study.


A heavy environmental impact

According to a study by the online media Youmatter, it is necessary to count:

100,000 kWh of electricity to light a stadium for one match, i.e. the consumption of 20 households in one year.

36 million liters of water for the maintenance of the lawn of the Stade de France for one year. This equates to 720,000 ten-minute showers.

60 tonnes of CO2for car travel by one-third of supporters to an enclosure of more than 30,000 people, for one year. This is the fuel consumption for six round-the-world trips by car.



Saudi Arabia wants to host the Asian Winter Games in a futuristic, robotic city

While many cities in France are announcing a boycott of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar for environmental reasons, the information seems parodic: Saudi Arabia, a desert country on the Arabian Peninsula, will host the 2029 Asian Winter Games, announced Wednesday, October 4 the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).

This competition is part of the Asian Games, which also include Summer Games, Martial Arts Games, Para-Asian Games and Beach Games. The Asian Games are the second largest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics. They bring together nearly 12,000 athletes.

The Asian Winter Games include competitions in skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey and figure skating, totaling 47 events, including 28 on snow and 19 on ice, according to the Olympic Council of Asia.

Skiing in Saudi Arabia

“The deserts and mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for winter sports”says in a press release the OCA, specifying that the decision had been taken ” unanimously “ during its general assembly in Phnom Penh. “I never believed that I would ski one day in my country”reacted Tuesday the Saudi alpine skier Fayik Abdile, quoted in the press release of the organization.

The Asian Winter Games should precisely take place in Trojena, a mountainous area “where temperatures drop below zero degrees in winter and throughout the year are generally 10 degrees lower” by the sea, the developers claim on their website, without mentioning the issue of rainfall.

The Alps in the desert

Trojena, which is expected to be completed in 2026, will include year-round ski slopes, an artificial freshwater lake, chalets, mansions and luxury hotels, according to the same source. This mountain destination must be near Neom.

Located on the shores of the Red Sea, the Neom project, worth 500 billion euros and carried by the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has been widely talked about since the first announcement made in 2017. Architects and economists have questioned its feasibility.

A city as big as 250 times Paris

The city must be 26,500 square kilometers, or 250 times the size of Paris. Everything must be robotized, from the valets to the taxis to the cleaning staff. Neom must also have an artificial moon and phosphorescent beaches. It should force 20,000 people from the Howeitat tribe to leave a land they have occupied for centuries.

The management of the project by its leaders is also criticized. the wall street journal thus reported that the CEO of Neom would have fostered a corporate culture that “humiliated expatriates, made excessive demands and did not fight discrimination in the workplace”. According to The Economist, only two buildings have been constructed so far.

Sporting events have multiplied in recent years in Saudi Arabia, accused by NGOs of wanting to divert attention from human rights abuses in the kingdom.



Paris, Marseille, Lille… These French cities which will not install a screen for the 2022 World Cup

The city of Paris will not install fan zones or giant screens in public space to broadcast the matches of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, announced the deputy in charge of sport, Pierre Rabadan.

“For us, there was no question of setting up match broadcast areas for several reasons: the first is the conditions for organizing this World Cup, both in terms of the environment and the social aspect, the second, it’s the temporality, the fact that it takes place in the month of December”he explained Monday, October 3 in the evening.

Marseille, Bordeaux, Nancy and Reims had previously made the same announcement. “This competition has gradually turned into a human and environmental disaster, incompatible with the values ​​that we want to see carried through sport and especially football”explained the Marseille municipality, led by the socialist Benoît Payan at the head of a broad left-wing and environmentalist coalition.

“Humanitarian aberrations”

“Marseille, strongly attached to the values ​​of sharing and solidarity in sport and committed to building a greener city, cannot contribute to the promotion of this 2022 Football World Cup in Qatar”the city insisted in a press release.

“I would really have the impression, if Bordeaux were to welcome these fan zones, to be an accomplice” of “this sporting event which represents all humanitarian, ecological and sporting aberrations”had declared for his part the ecological mayor of Bordeaux Pierre Hurmic.

Many dead workers

Among the reasons for this boycott include the treatment of immigrant workers and the number of deaths in the construction of the eight stadiums of the World Cup. While the official toll is only three dead, the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported in a report that 50 workers died in workplace accidents in Qatar in 2020, and 500 were seriously injured, a figure that could be higher according to her due to shortcomings in the accident recording system.

Besides the question of human rights, the mayor of Bordeaux Pierre Hurmic also refused to be“incoherent”in relation to the efforts requested of the population in terms of“energy sobriety”. “You cannot call your fellow citizens to sobriety and yourself be complicit in energy aberration of this nature” he defended, adding that “Those who awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2010 were light years away from energy sobriety”.

The FFF is not worried

On Saturday, the socialist mayor of Lille Martine Aubry also announced that no giant screen would be installed, denouncing a“Nonsense with regard to human rights, the environment and sport”. A decision also taken in Rodez and Strasbourg, in particular.

On the side of the French Football Federation, we do not fear such a decision: “At this stage, the FFF will not communicate”, says a source close to the Federation. “It’s a decision that is in tune with the times, full of demagoguery. It’s always more surprising for a city like Paris which is happy to have Qatar in support of its football club.

“If ever France wins the World Cup, it will be interesting to scrutinize the Twitter accounts of the big cities, which will undoubtedly find a parade to congratulate and celebrate the players of the France team, as it should be”, quips the source close to the FFF.



A vigilant French golf federation at a time of ecological transition

When the whole country is sweating under the heat wave, when its forests are on fire and its lands are dying of thirst, the image is to say the least offbeat: a few people in good company are tapping the little white ball on a green of perfect grass green. A golf privilege that goes badly in times of drought, and some environmental activists have not hesitated to let it be known. Near Toulouse in mid-August, in Yvelines ten days later, in Oise in early September, groups of activists targeted a few courses, vandalizing lawns, cementing a few holes and denouncing here “water grabbing”somewhere else “those golf courses that only benefit the bourgeois”.

On the side of the French Golf Federation (FFG), Sylvianne Villaudière, vice-president elected at the end of 2020 and in charge of the ecological transition, deplores the “shortcuts” which do not take into account the efforts made for a long time by the clubs in the management of water resources.

A framework agreement with the public authorities, the third since 2006 and covering the period 2019-2024, authorizes golf courses, even in the event of extreme drought, to water only the greens. “They represent only 1 to 2% of the 33,000 hectares covered by our golf courses and, without watering, they can die and jeopardize economic activity and the 15,000 people employed by our sector, insists Sylvianne Villaudière. This summer, 68 of our courses were nevertheless completely banned, with some prefects going beyond our framework agreement. It is still too early to estimate the damage. »

Use wastewater

And the vice-president to highlight these few golf courses (about fifteen) which today use wastewater, such as that of Sainte-Maxime (Var) which has invested 1.3 million euros to be able to use the water from the nearby treatment plant previously discharged into the sea. “The cost is enormous for the clubs, and this practice also comes up against specifications and administrative complexities which further limit this solution”, emphasizes Sylvianne Villaudière.

The federal elected official, who is not from the seraglio, knows her subject well. With her firm, she advised a number of companies on the social and environmental responsibility (CSR) aspect and ensured the coordination of the COP21 Solutions network before the 2015 United Nations Conference. She does not intend to be an extra at the FFG. She knows that the climate emergency demands a “acceleration”. In terms of governance, a new strategic committee meets every month, and four groups of experts (water, grass, biodiversity, innovation) have been set up. In each of the 13 regional leagues, referents and ambassadors are appointed to disseminate information and report on good practices.

Adapt or die

Since February 2022, the federal teams have visited them all, and a conference of the territories to report on this tour is scheduled for the end of next November. A general mobilization which is also reflected in federal investments, doubled (to €500,000) to finance research in particular, such as the experimentation of new collections of lawn grasses in a dozen clubs, on different soils and different climates.

On biodiversity, the work supported since 2018 by the National Museum of Natural History continues after the reporting of 23,000 data in four years on habitats and natural areas, and a new partnership was signed in 2021 with the Office French for Biodiversity (OFB). “New technologies are also being deployed, from probes monitoring soil humidity to robots facilitating maintenance, and all our clubs must continue to improve their practices, some of which started fifteen years ago.concludes Sylvianne Villaudière. We must, like all other outdoor sports, be efficient on all these subjects. This is our role as athletes and our responsibility as citizens. Otherwise, this discipline will disappear. »



Golf courses are trying to limit their environmental footprint

The hamlet of Unjat disappears, on the right of the small secondary road 211. And suddenly, a golf course. There, in the middle of nowhere, in the heart of the Ariège countryside. The installation is invisible from the road, except for the parking lot occupied by around thirty sedans on this September day still crushed by a blazing sun. “It’s a route set in the middle of nature, not imposed on nature”, likes to point out Jean-Alain Rives, the president of Ecogolf Ariège-Pyrénées (La Bastide-de-Sérou).

The owner of the site since 2019 does not miss an opportunity to highlight the specificity of this 18-hole golf course born in 1986 from the inspiration of a local elected official. Its location certainly (the only one in Ariège), but above all the environmental approach of its owner (the department) and of the Golf Club de l’Ariège association, which manages it by delegation: combining territorial development and sustainable maintenance. This is the bet taken in 2008 and which, after long work, led to the inauguration of the Ecogolf in 2014: 75 hectares of an ecological area labeled by the regional natural park of the Ariège Pyrenees, on the basis of a unique charter in France.

Suffice to say that the desire to weigh as little as possible on the Plantaurel massif, which hosts it, was not born of the climatic emergency – which is obvious to everyone after a scorching summer. This is for the head gardener, the “greenkeeper” François Viovy, in office since 2008, a daily concern.

Water, object of all attention

First, water management. The site is fortunate to have two hill reservoirs (60,000 m3), one of which is undergoing expansion “to avoid the pitfall of this year of drought where we were almost dry in mid-August”, says the gardener. Who, on this chapter, wants to moderate the recurring storms: “The community has been working on the subject for a very long time. Here, before labeling, the irrigation system, to be more economical, was reviewed in 2006. Water is what we control best”. With or without deductions, Ecogolf takes care of its sobriety, even recovering the morning dew, “with a rake, for two hours, 1 to 2 liters per m2”explains François Viovy.

Attention is focused above all on the greens, the only spaces authorized by derogation to receive water in the event of a restriction. “We are doing a lot of research on lawn grasses, in order to find the least water-eating species or those capable of seeking water from deeper depths”, continues François Viovy. A quest that motivates most greenkeepers today, and whose training offered by their professional association (Agref), “are really committed to providing the necessary responses to new climatic constraints”assures François Viovy.

If he says ” to understand “ the debate on watering, he wishes to emphasize the economic stakes: “If I no longer water my greens in July and August, which represent only 1.5 hectares of our estate, it will take me several months to recover them. And if a new restriction occurs the following year, there is a risk of permanent closure. That’s what’s in the balance. »

Another concern for Ecogolf, fertilization, with the ban on the use of phytosanitary products from January 2025. It concerns almost only the greens, and still promises a headache, even if it is constantly reduction (from one treatment per month to four per year). The site also oversees the transition to electric maintenance tools. A robot is already mowing the fairways, and perhaps a new one, at the prototype stage, will make it possible to treat the greens with light therapy. “It’s not a fadswears Jean-Alain Rives. These new machines allow me to free up working time for my gardeners who can concentrate on more in-depth maintenance of the course, in particular to preserve biodiversity. »

Preserving biodiversity

Ecogolf has just obtained the silver label “Golf for biodiversity” created by the French Golf Federation (FFG) in 2018, to testify to the enhancement of natural heritage. An ethologist-naturalist, mandated by the regional park, multiplies the visits to carry out an inventory of the fauna and flora. Good habits have been taken: no longer mow around the limestone rocks that dot the site, killing all life around, or preserve “green corridors”, between the tree-lined passages in particular, to guarantee the mixture of species. “We have about ten different bats, grass snakes, a red kite, among others,” lists Jean-Alain Rives.

Occupants of the places who watch, jaded, these funny passers-by with carts and canes, we also come across them on the golf course of Téoula, in Plaisance-du-Touch. In particular at the edge of the ponds, below a watershed which supplies water to the 60-hectare site in the Toulouse suburbs. The municipal course, born in the 1990s and managed today by the UGolf group, operator of around fifty sites in France, is a pioneer in environmental matters. He initiated a merger with the Ecocert certification body in the mid-2000s to create the first “Eco-sustainable Golf” label, which Téoula obtained in 2010.

The effort focuses first on water, with reasoned watering assisted by specific software. Result: a reduction by two of the annual consumption, from 90,000 m3 to 45,000 m3. The preservation of biodiversity is also on the program with birdhouses, beehives, an ongoing inventory of fish present in the ponds, among others. Like the Ariège Ecogolf, Téoula is one of the three golf courses in Occitanie to display the silver label of the FFG in this area.

The necessary awareness of golfers

“A lot of work has been done over the years, and today we are more in detail and deepening our knowledge”, judge Alexandre Capet, the director of the site. Who also wants to mention the necessary education of golfers themselves. On this Sunday, September 10, while the mercury still exceeds 30°C, after crossing 36°C 22 times this summer in mainland France, yellow largely dominates the course. “Our teams are doing a lot of explaining work, and this state, the players are starting to accept it. But we must continue to raise awareness. The disappearance of garbage cans on the course for example, to avoid the consumption of bags, the difficulties of sorting, it was not easy for some. »

Progress to be made? Of course, and always. But the young director deplores the turn of the summer controversy which resulted in spectacular actions by environmental activists sabotaging two courses around Toulouse. “Yes, the climate emergency is also binding on us, but the golf industry has long been on a positive path, and should be taken as an example rather than the opposite. »


A sport that attracts more and more

The French Golf Federation (FFG) had some 437,000 licensees in 2021 (a record, up 4.4% over ten years), including 117,500 women and 44,000 young people under the age of 19. The average age was 53 (55 for women, 52 for men).

The FFG has in France and overseas 740 structures, including 611 golf courses with more than 9 holes.

Ecogolf Ariège-Pyrenees has 376 members and welcomes 9,000 visitors per year (constantly increasing). It employs between 9 and 11 people, excluding the restaurant. The Toulouse Téoula golf course, meanwhile, claims 1,000 members, and employs between 12 and 15 people, excluding the restaurant.




In France, cycle tourism changes gear

The “velorition” continues. This year again, a growing number of French tourists have chosen to spend their holidays by bike. From January to early July 2022, they were on average 16% more than at the same period in 2021 to frequent the EuroVelo, this network of cycle paths extended over 9,000 kilometers in France. A jump of 44% was even observed in May, according to the latest estimates from the Vélo & Territoires community network.

This surge follows a trend drawn up for several years, first driven by the rise of the cycle in town. Ten million new practitioners in six years, i.e. a total of nearly 32 million French people, were thus counted in March in a study carried out by AG2R La Mondiale and the Union sport & cycle. A third of them take the bike out of the garage at least once a week.

But since the health crisis, cycle tourism has reached new heights to become the first practice of tourist roaming, ahead of hiking.The French spent their summers in the territory because of restrictions abroad. So we picked up these vacationers looking for adventure outdoors », explains Florent Tijou, from the France Vélo Tourisme association. Always difficult to quantify, these tourists were able to benefit from an extended circuit ” since five years “ by communities, he notes, the two phenomena feeding on each other: “The territories have also gotten into it by noting that cyclists are generally tourists who spend more than others on accommodation and catering, far from the anti-tourist image that they could project before. The layout of the network was reviewed about ten years ago, which took time, and we are now seeing the results. »

Search for personal challenges

These economic spin-offs, which have risen to peak at 5.1 billion euros per year according to Atout France, make it possible to irrigate usually landlocked rural areas, now connected over 25,000 kilometers and a dozen developed routes. Most are still designed for family outings, such as the “Vélodyssée” along the Atlantic coast, where the very signposted route helps beginners in their organization, as much as the arrival of electrically assisted bicycles facilitates their effort.

But a new profile emerges in parallel, “younger and sportier, looking for personal challenges”, portrays Isabelle Gautheron, national technical director of the French Cycling Federation, which has 110,000 licensees “older and who, conversely, traditionally practice cycling in a club”.

Thus, on the Route des Grandes Alpes, one of the circuits sought after in summer by the most enduring, between Thonon-les-Bains and Nice, 18 passes ranging from 1,000 to 2,700 meters in altitude are offered to experienced cyclists. Some will swallow the 700 kilometers of bitumen in a few days, “where it will take ten for the general public », Advances Lionel Terrail, co-host of the route, who phosphorus on the creation of a non-passable portion. This would attract the ever-increasing number of gravel enthusiasts, this bike halfway between road and mountain biking, “with reinforced tires and a more comfortable frame”.

Putting your body into play in an ecological way

In addition to a better reception than before by hoteliers, this category of cycle tourists has grown in recent years through social networks aimed at sports enthusiasts, such as Strava and its 4 million French users. “Creating these informal groups gave them extra motivation to challenge themselves and compare their performance,” analyzes Isabelle Gautheron. While visiting the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, 800 participants were able to compete last July against professional cyclist Matthieu Ladagnous and former Tour de France pros, for the duration of a route prepared by the Groupama-FDJ rider.

“This sporting dimension, if it is true that it has become more and more specialised, has always permeated cycle tourismnotes the geographer Alexandre Schiratti, author of the book Take the road, devoted to the history of bicycle travel (1). Whether these are the first stories at the end of the 19e century or those that we can meet today, we find the same two desires. On the one hand, leaving the city to get closer to nature with which they have lost contact, going on an adventure with a motivation that can be formulated differently, that of ecology. And on the other, putting your body into play, regardless of its state of form: at his level, the French intellectual Émile Zola had for example said that he had converted to cycle tourism in his fifties to lose his overweight. »


France, second cycle tourism destination

With the aim, in particular, of overtaking Germany to become the leading destination for cycle tourists in Europe by 2030, the government presented the “destination France” plan in November 2021. It aims, for example, to multiply by five the number of places labeled “Accueil vélo”, to reach the figure of 20,000. The development of specialized travel agencies – a dozen today – should also make it possible to guide the 20 % of foreign cycle tourists, in search of safety and therefore more tempted to head towards these structures. For the moment, the means allocated have not yet been specified.



At the Tour de France, the carbon footprint race

Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France, has two red coaches. One is 100% electric, like two other cars from Amaury Sport Organization (ASO). The other runs with a rechargeable hybrid engine, like 100 light vehicles of the organizers. Brought back to a total of 2,000 motorized vehicles that accompany the peloton, the contribution may seem symbolic, but it helps to improve the carbon footprint of the Grande Boucle, a small town that moves every day, under the cumulative gaze of 10 million spectators in three weeks.

According to figures provided by ASO, its CO2 emissions fell by 40% between 2013 and 2021, dropping from 341,000 to 216,000 tonnes. This is almost the equivalent of 100,000 Paris-New York round trips by plane for a single passenger (1)… “Our number one cause of emissions is mobility, and we act on it as a priorityexplains Karine Bozzacchi, CSR (corporate social responsibility) manager for cycling at ASO. We encourage all Tour families to do the same. And we see that there are efforts made, in all the fleets. »

“Obviously, we are concerned by this development”

Twenty percent of the publicity caravan thus advances with alternative engines (hybrid or electric), and half of the heavy goods vehicles of the organization run on biofuels, the objective being to switch to 100% alternative in 2024 for all followers. Several teams have also taken the hybrid step. “Obviously, we are concerned by this development, emphasizes Vincent Lavenu, AG2R-Citroën training manager. We ourselves have a CSR approach. » At the same time, ASO does “compensation”, for example by supporting reforestation programs.

But from there to driving entirely on electric… Christian Prudhomme abandons his 100% green car on 5 of the 21 stages of the Tour to return to the hybrid. “We have three mobile charging stations this year, but it’s still complicated,” recognizes Karine Bozzacchi. “Maybe it will come tomorrow, but it’s not possible now, resumes Vincent Lavenu. When you have to do 50 or 70 kilometers in the morning before coming to the start, then a stage of 200 or 250 kilometers with passes and then 50 to 100 kilometers to get to the hotel, that can’t work. »

While the public is responsible for 94% of the overall carbon footprint, the other major environmental footprint of the Tour is linked to waste. Here too, efforts have been made under the impetus of ASO, which has signed the “Charter of 15 eco-responsible commitments” for organizers of sporting events proposed by the Ministry of Sports and the WWF. The plastic packaging of “goodies”, the gifts distributed, have been eliminated, paper replaces more polluting materials, “environmental coordinators” are responsible for providing information on sorting…

In this area, ASO is under pressure from civil society. In 2019, a forum signed by deputies and NGOs called on him to ban plastic goodies, to “bringing the Tour into a more virtuous loop”. “We have been working on this for a long time, takes over Karine Bozzacchi. This forum was a blessing in disguise. When activists force us to move, it’s not fun, but it’s always effective. »

“We cannot call ourselves eco-responsible without changing the model”

Co-signer of this appeal, the Zero Waste association nevertheless remains vigilant. “So much the better if efforts have been made, reacts Laura Frouin, project manager of the NGO for the Zero Waste Sport campaign. But, in general, you can’t call yourself eco-responsible without changing the model and rethinking your communication. For us, these goodies remain a waste of resources for a utility of a few minutes, using materials that cause other problems. »

As for the runners, they are no longer supposed to get rid of their empty cans just anywhere. Collection areas are provided on each stage. “It gradually came into people’s minds”, commented former professional Jérémy Roy, who follows the Tour as an ambassador for the Ecosystem organization to encourage the collection of mobile phones. “We can’t dirty our playground, while the organizers go to great lengths to get us through sensitive areas. Riders also have a duty to set an example. »