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Eco-friendly football stadium takes root in Lesotho

Uniting sports and sustainability to drive social change

Lesotho in southern Africa is poised to welcome a groundbreaking 1,280-seater football stadium constructed primarily from sustainably sourced timber, dubbed the Stadium of Life. Located in the country’s capital of Maseru, this innovative project, which harnesses timber’s renewability and carbon storage properties, stems from a collaboration between local charity and football club Kick4Life (K4L), non-profit organisation Relationships Inspiring Social Enterprise (rise International), the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), and international certification body DNV.

The Stadium of Life represents a pioneering venture in several respects. Not only will it be Africa’s first FSC-certified timber stadium, but it also marks the first FSC-certified project (FSC®-P001979) in southern Africa and the third on the African continent. A €75,000 sponsorship by FSC International has secured the naming rights for the next five years.

The structure, which DNV has certified as an FSC project, sets new standards for sustainable construction and environmental responsibility.  (DNV-PRO-002776)

FSC Southern Africa marketing and communications manager Gerard Busse says, “Project certification is vital in that it verifies that the forest materials for a project come from FSC-certified forests, recycled, or controlled sources. Project certification also ensures the responsible sourcing of timber, supply chain and the promotion of environmental stewardship and community development.”

“Aligned to the shared aim for long-term positive impact on the environment and local communities, DNV inspectors rigorously examined the sustainable methods used, providing useful insights on how to improve the project’s environmental and social impact,” adds Busse.

The wooden poles chosen for construction are being sourced from MTO Forestry’s FSC-certified plantations in Mpumalanga, South Africa. Choosing FSC-certified products directly enshrines conservation into the project’s legacy, ensuring supply chain integrity and responsible forestry for future generations.

Steve Fleming, co-founder of K4L, explains the stadium’s significance as a platform for social change. “The new facility will extend the impact of K4L’s existing centre, providing space for daily football-based and social impact programmes and serving as a home ground for football teams.”

Motlatsi Nkhahle, country director of K4L, adds, “The stadium is designed a multi-purpose facility that extends beyond sport, but also acts as a hub for diverse activities, including climate change education, gender empowerment, academic tutoring, health testing, and entrepreneurship training.”

The existing centre’s social enterprises, including a restaurant and conference centre, generate income to support community programmes and create employment opportunities for youth.

The Stadium of Life aims to foster a connection between football and nature, encouraging visitors to consider the sport’s impact on our natural environment. The concept was developed in collaboration with construction industry graduates from rise’s flagship design and build training programme, in loco, as part of a 10-month fellowship in 2023.

After various design options, timber won, with 8,584 treated Eucalyptus poles forming the west and south stands and a 160-metre perimeter fence. “As the construction sector increasingly seeks materials with a lighter environmental footprint, lower greenhouse gas emissions and better energy efficiency, eyes are turning towards forest products sector to meet these goals,” explains Pedro Clarke, in loco programme director and project lead architect.

Wood serves a long-life carbon storage mechanism. When trees are sustainably harvested, the wood continues to store carbon even when turned into another product such as sawn timber, poles and even pulp and paper. One cubic metre of Eucalyptus wood captures 880kg of atmospheric carbon dioxide[i], thanks to photosynthesis that takes place while a tree is growing. Some 640kg of oxygen is released back into the atmosphere, while safely locking away 240kg of captured carbon. Furthermore, new saplings take up carbon dioxide faster than the older trees they replace.

The project features a new grass pitch for 11-a-side games, plus a resurfaced five-a-side pitch thanks to donated artificial turf from SIS Pitches. Spectators will enjoy wooden seating on two sides, with separate areas for coaches and teams near the halfway line. Locally sourced sandstone from Lesotho will add a natural touch to the seating. A canopy of thin wooden beams will provide shade, while a timber fence enhances security. Importantly, the project minimises concrete use, only employing it for the foundations of the wooden poles.

The natural tones of timber are complemented by the more industrial look of repurposed shipping containers for changing room and restroom facilities. This is further complemented by solar-powered lighting and indigenous plantings.

A biodiversity stand, designed by Park Associati in Italy in collaboration with rise, will incorporate an array of indigenous plants from across Lesotho, enhancing K4L’s work around climate education and action. “As such, the ‘Biodiversity Stand’ takes on a double meaning – a stand in the sense of football, but also as a representation for the protection and promotion of biodiversity in the Mountain Kingdom,” adds Fleming.

Despite challenges, including funding constraints and a pandemic, the project signifies a triumph of perseverance and commitment to social change.

“It’s a dream come true to see this new evolution of the K4L Centre finally come to fruition,” notes Daniela Gusman, founder and executive director of rise International. “Having worked on the master plan in 2009, it’s especially rewarding to partner with our in loco fellows on a project that will have a long-term positive impact on the community.”

“It exemplifies a paradigm shift in sports infrastructure, combining sustainability, social impact, and cultural representation. As construction progresses, the stadium aims to inspire communities and set a new benchmark for environmentally responsible practices in sports development,” concludes Gusman.

Construction began in August 2023, and the stadium is set to open in December 2024.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”
– NELSON MANDELA –

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