Proposed football training facility threatens to destroy protected forest land in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Feb 13, 2023

The Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) has announced plans to establish a new residential training facility in the Ramu upazila of Cox’s Bazar District, in South-East Bangladesh, on 20 acres of hilly forest land. It has been reported that FIFA is providing funding for the project with at least 3.6 million USD to be invested. While Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) welcomes investment into the development of football in Bangladesh, BELA raises concerns about the project and its compliance with national laws and FIFA’s policies and pledges around environmental sustainability and climate action. 

The 20 acre plot of land that has been selected as the new site for the residential training facility was designated as a “reserve forest” by the Government of Bangladesh under The Forest Act, 1927 and is also an “Ecologically Critical Area” (ECA) where any development is strictly prohibited. The forest is rich and unique in biodiversity and felling in this area threatens the habitat of the endangered Asian Elephant.

Bangladesh has drastically lost forest area in recent years, and the area of Cox’s Bazar has seen thousands of acres of forest degraded through illegal grabbing and unplanned developments. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has passed numerous orders and judgments preventing any further conversion and degradation of forest land in this area. If carried out in its current iteration, this project will not only result in the felling of up to 30,000 trees, but it will also violate the nation’s laws and the Supreme Court’s orders.

In recent years, FIFA has committed to environmental sustainability and taking action against the climate crisis. In 2016, FIFA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), becoming the first sports organisation to pledge carbon neutrality by 2050. At CoP24 in Poland, FIFA signed the UNFCCC Sports for Climate Action Framework, committing to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Furthermore, according to FIFA’s Climate Strategy, published in 2021, Goal 3 was listed as “Ensure climate-resilient football development”. While these are all highly laudable pledges, investing millions of dollars for BFF to raze forest land contradicts FIFA’s stated goals.

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to the adverse effects of climate change. The Government of Bangladesh has been at the forefront of calling for climate action globally. At CoP 26 in Glasgow, Bangladesh became one of the signatories to the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, stating its commitment to forest protection, afforestation and forest expansion by 2030. Investing in a project that directly goes against these pledges is to wilfully enable the Government of Bangladesh to fail in its international obligations on environmental sustainability and climate action at a time when increasing forest cover is an essential strategy for achieving net zero worldwide.  

Therefore, BELA demand FIFA take the following steps regarding environmental and climate concerns:

  • FIFA should work with the Bangladesh Football Federation to choose a suitable alternative location for the proposed training centre and demand no construction of the proposed training centre or any other infrastructural project in the protected forest of Coxs Bazar.
  • FIFA adheres to its commitments and ensures that its funds are only used for projects that maintain rigorous environmental safeguards.
  • FIFA should reaffirm its environmental and climate commitments to grow the sport in a sustainable way. 

BELA hopes FIFA will do its best to persuade BFF to find an alternative site for its training centre and that FIFA will take a proactive role in the environmental oversight of the projects of its member associations.