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The impact of Climate Change on sports

Bushfires are ravaging Australia, with millions of people, flora and fauna being affected by the horrid conditions that the country sees itself in.

Similarly, glaciers in the Arctic continue to melt at rapid speeds due to the rising heat temperatures and over the last year, we have seen fires in the Amazon, and a significant increase in natural disasters.

For example, farmers across developing countries have to rethink how they may achieve their required annual yields, nomadic communities cannot live as easily with their nomadic lifestyles, and people in the developed world continue to lose their lives or are hospitalised because of heatwaves.

In the words of the former CEO of the Australian Football League, Andrew Demetriou, “The science is loud and clear. Our world is warming, and places like Australia are experiencing ever wilder weather: more drought, bushfires, and other extreme weather events.”

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Sports as a social construct brings out the human instinct like no other form of competition.

It enables individuals to challenge each other, challenge themselves, and it unites people from all walks of life whether they are on the field, court or pitch, or supporting their favourite athlete or team.

All outdoor sports are dependent on the weather to varying degrees, and climate change is no stranger to sports. The most recent example is the impact of the bushfire smoke on the ATP tennis in Melbourne, Australia, where the Slovenian player, Dalila Jakupovic retired from a match which she was winning after falling onto the ground due to excessive coughing.

Take the case of the 2022 FIFA World cup, where, due to sweltering temperatures, it was decided that the global spectacle be pushed into the winter season.

They will also install air conditioning in the stands, so that fans do not suffer from heatstroke and other illnesses, in case, the temperature does not cool down.

In one of our podcasts, I chatted with Fox Sports commentator, Simon Hill, who has covered football all his life. While discussing the differences between Australian conditions and British conditions, he raised an interesting point; here in Australia, Soccer is a summer sport, where the heat can slow down the game, whereas in the UK it’s a winter sport.

With our summers getting hotter here in Australia, and around the world, how can we expect athletes to compete at the highest levels and against their European peers when the climate makes it tougher for them to train, to play and to perform?

In cricket; moisture, humidity and the heat impact how the pitch is prepared. Not to mention that rain can all but wash away a whole game!

Former Australian cricket captain, Ian Chappell, wonderfully summed up cricket and climate change in his recent article for ESPNCricInfo, stating that “these are firm reminders that cricketers and administrators need to take climate change seriously.

Mind you, any disastrous effects on a sport will pale into insignificance when compared with the potential of climate change to inflict devastation on the planet.”

Similarly, oxygen levels are key for elite cyclists competing in Grand Tours, while humidity and heat can wear out even the fittest of athletes participating in track and field competitions.

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In 2019 in Doha, the temperature was at 38 degrees Celsius and 80 per cent humidity, and this forced more than 25 athletes pulled out of the women’s marathon in the Doha World Championships.

Similarly, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been rescheduled due to severe heat waves that have killed and hospitalised hundreds of people. Whatever it may be, these conditions are only exasperated by climate change.

On the flip side, winter sports are just as heavily impacted by the changes in climate. Professional skiers and snowboarders might have it easier, with the accessibility to snowy slopes and longer winter periods, but ski resorts and leisure-skiers do not necessarily have that luxury.

“Over the years, the season has become shorter due to warming temperatures caused by human activity,” Ephrat Livni writes for Quartz, “Skiers, snowboarders, and others pay the price with worsening conditions and fewer opportunities, and the changes are costing businesses.”

For the more casual athletes or fitness enthusiasts, the sun is perhaps a bit too bright as well. Imagine that you commute to work on your bicycle, as many do where I live, but the whole city is submerged in smoke from a bushfire, or dust from dry heat.

Not only does this impact your cardiovascular system, but it can irritate your eyes, and adversely affect your skin. Or say you go on a daily run, but 45 degrees Celsius in spring results in you passing out.

On the bright side, Sports professionals are increasingly seeing themselves at a crossroads, where their industry and businesses need to be more ethical and environmentally-friendly. Athletes are using their platforms to promote the need for climate action and global sporting organisations, such as FIFA, are also getting into the act.

This is a relationship that is inextricably linked, where climate action will benefit athletes and sports professionals, and shifting tides (albeit, not at a large enough scale) will increase their reputations and assist them in saving the sports that they love from potential devastation.

Nonetheless, climate change is affecting sports, as it is the world, and there must be more that we in the sports industry can do to change that. At Sportageous, we are doing a series of articles on climate change and sports, focusing on some of the countries based in the Pacific Islands that are most vulnerable to climate change.

This is the first piece in a series of articles on Sports and Climate change.

Zushan Hashmi is a sports enthusiast who works in the policy space in Australia. He is an avid fan of climbing, football, cricket and all things sport.

You can follow him here on Twitter. For more articles like this, visit Sportageous.

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