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Poor air quality impacting activity, events and sport
With Australia's bushfire crisis having killed at least 20 people and led to emergency declarations in two states, haze from the fires and resulting poor air quality is impacting events, sport fixtures and those wanting to exercise and be active.
As a result of smoke haze blanketing parts of the country, including some major cities, for weeks on end, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has warned prolonged exposure to toxic smoke could affect the health of many Australians.
Warning that even healthy people could develop serious illnesses, AMA President Tony Bartone described the length and density of smoke exposure as "a new, and possibly fatal, health risk", noting “with denser smoke haze and longer periods that people endure smoke inhalation, there is a much higher risk that previously healthy people will face developing serious illness.”
Fire danger, haze and poor air quality have seen sports matches abandoned and relocated, events and festivals cancelled, including, as of today, Sydney Festival’s flagship show, Opening Night.
The haze over Melbourne is even leading to questions about the upcoming Australian Open and F1 Australian Grand Prix.
Less than a fortnight before the start of the tennis’ first Grand Slam of the year, Melbourne’s air quality has been downgraded to ‘very poor’ and ‘hazardous’.
While conditions are expected to ease before the start of the tournament on 20th January, past winner Novak Djokovic has suggested the Australian Open could be delayed to avoid bushfire smoke.
Seven-time champion Djokovic - who suffered respiratory problems early in his career - said at the weekend in his capacity as president of the ATP players’ council that air pollution at the Melbourne site would have to be closely monitored, and did not rule out discussing a delay to the tournament if players’ health was going to be compromised.
Following this, Tennis Australia Chief Executive and Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley said air quality will be closely monitored.
Tiley advised “we have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events (having relocated a Challenger event from Canberra).
“Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain. We have experts who analyse all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.
“We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.
“The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind. The smoke has proven intermittently problematic in some areas. The worst affected so far has been in Canberra and after consultation with medical, air and weather experts we made a decision to move our event to Bendigo.”
Optimistic the tournament will go ahead, Tiley suggested games on Melbourne Park’s outside courts could be relocated to the venue’s three closed roof arenas.
Australian F1 Grand Prix
With Formula 1 set to host the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on 15th March, F1 has confirmed it is monitoring the situation.
Daniel Ricciardo, Australia’s only Formula 1 driver, Lewis Hamilton and Esteban Ocon are among those who have expressed sympathy for those affected by the fires on social media and urged their followers to donate money to those affected by them.
Last November’s Rally Australia was cancelled due to bushfires in NSW. However, the organisers of the Bathurst 12 Hours, which takes place at the Mount Panorama Circuit, have said their event on January 31st will go ahead.
F1 is familiar with dealing with poor air quality, with the Singapore Grand Prix having contingency plans to cope with haze when the city has been impacted by dense smoke clouds following forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.
Australian Institute of Sport issues guidance on smoke pollution and exercise
Recent extreme heat and smoke conditions has prompted the Canberra-based Australian Institute of Sport advise that people need to be careful when planning exercise and physical activity.
It has prepared a best practice guide on smoke pollution and exercise.
Click here to view the Australian Institute of Sport guidance.
Images: Smoke at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra (top, courtesy of the AIS), smoke hangs over central Melbourne as of yesterday [7th January] (middle, Twitter) and the start of the Australian F1 Grand Prix (below, courtesy of Mercedes F1 Racing).
8th January 2020 - Sydney Festival show cancelled due to bushfires and poor air quality
7th January 2020 - Bushfires destroy Selwyn Snow Resort
6th January 2020 - TEG to stage benefit concert for bushfire relief at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium
5th January 2020 - Bushfires push numerous Australian animal species towards extinction
4th January 2020 - Surf Life Saving NSW responds to bushfire crisis
21st December 2019 - Smoke from bushfires forces abandonment of Big Bash League match in Canberra
12th November 2019 - Bushfires cause cancellation of Rally Australia World Championship event
25th October 2019 - Footprint of Australian Open set to expand in 2020
25th July 2019 - Tennis Australia to change hardcourt surface for Australian Open
19th July 2019 - Melbourne secures Formula 1 Grand Prix until at least 2025
29th January 2019 - Record 780,000 fans share the excitement of the 2019 Australian Open
29th December 2018 - New Australian Open extreme heat policy to allow 10-minute breaks in men’s matches
10th October 2018 - 2019 Australian Open prepares to showcase ‘worlds best’ player facilities
18th January 2018 - Melbourne Park venues must be designed to cope with Australian Open heat
4th December 2014 - Tennis Australia alters Australian Open extreme heat policy
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