Prior to kick-off, Fifa declared the World Cup in Qatar to be ‘a fully carbon-neutral event’, triggering enough spluttering, snorting and involuntary cackles to feed an entire wind farm. Seven giant brand-new stadiums, open-air air-conditioning in the desert, goodness knows how many long-haul flights in and out, and an armada of cruise ships to store the Wags. Righto, Mr Infantino. The Fifa president is the poster boy of talking tripe – the Comical Ali of sports-washing. Football is losing the climate fight like Costa Rica lost against Spain (7-0). Instead, the world’s most eco-friendly sport is motor racing.
I’m serious. Let me introduce you to Extreme E. Extreme E, or XE for short, is like Mad Max meets The Blue Planet. It’s an off-road championship for custom-made electric vehicles (EVs), racing in some of the world’s most remote and damaged environments, where the drivers take time out to plant carbon-capturing mangroves and swim with sea lions. Imagine Formula 1 with Sir David Attenborough in the commentary box and you get the idea.
This dramatic wheel-to-wheel competition, including jaw-dropping jumps and some of the biggest names in rallying (Carlos Sainz and Sébastien Loeb, who have 11 World Rally Championships between them, to name two), pulls in audiences of more than 18 million. Beyond entertainment, the series is designed to draw attention to our changing climate, instigate ways to combat it and show what EVs can do.
As well as the eco-angle, there’s diversity in action here too: half the drivers are women. Each team must field both a male and female pilot – the first time this has been mandated in motorsport. The women competing include 25-year-old Catie Munnings from Kent. ‘Normally we girls are all spread across the world in various championships, so it’s really good for so many of us to come together and encourage each other,’ she says.