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Report suggests elite and grassroots sport at risk from climate change

Report suggests elite and grassroots sport at risk from climate change
February 1, 2015

A new report by The Climate Institute suggests that rising temperatures will threaten the viability of grassroots sport in Australia, and that elite tournaments will have to adapt to increasingly warmer conditions, extreme rainfall and shrinking snow cover.

The report, Sport and Climate Impacts: How much heat can sport handle? analyses the vulnerability to climate changes of sports such as AFL, tennis, cricket and cycling as well as winter snow sports.

It suggests that the extreme heat policies of sports such as tennis, AFL and cricket will have to “dramatically improve” to protect the health of competitors at all levels.

The report, featuring a foreword from former AFL Chief Executive Andrew Demetriou, warns that while elite sport might be able to adapt to a changing climate, the “ability to respond at local sporting grounds is more questionable.”

The Climate Institute compiled the report in the wake of the blistering heat that affected the Australian Open (pictured below) tennis tournament last year. Players and court staff fainted, water bottles melted and a participant even warned someone might die after temperatures hit 43C.

The Open has since introduced new protocols that require the match referee to consider suspending play if the ambient temperature reaches 40C.

But the Climate Institute warned that the heat policies of other sports were patchy, with a recent AFL match taking place in 38C heat and last year’s Tour Down Under having no heat stipulations, even though cycling races in certain states are normally halted in extremely high temperatures.

Climate Institute Chief Executive John Connor explains "heat policies are a bit confused and ambiguous between state and national levels.

“The Australian Open got caught short last year and these tournaments need to have proper heat policies given extreme heat is becoming more common.

“Sport is very dear to people, it’s core to our way of life and it is worth $13 billion a year to the Australian economy. Some sports will be at the limit of their ability to adapt or will have massive costs in order to continue, due to climate change.

“Some sports could wither on the vine if we choke off local sports. Professional tennis players can have retractable roofs and be wrapped in cotton wool but we risk the grassroots feed-in of those sports.”

According to climate projections published by the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology in the last week, Australia will warm by up to 5C by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curbed.

The number of days over 35C is set to treble in Melbourne and Hobart and quadruple in Sydney. In Brisbane, there would be 20 times more hot days, while Perth would spend two months a year above 35C and Darwin 10 months a year above that mark.

The Climate Institute warned this would have a significant impact on the health of sports participants. And elongated droughts in parts of Australia, coupled with extreme rainfall, will degrade community sporting grounds and even affect large stadiums, such as the Suncorp stadium in Brisbane, which was covered in 1.5 metre of water during the 2011 Queensland floods.

Some of the most dramatic changes could hit those who enjoy winter sports, with the CSIRO report warning of “very substantial decreases in snowfall, increase in melt and thus reduced snow cover”.

The Climate Institute cites further research by Griffith University that predicts a 60% reduction in snow cover by 2020, making it increasingly hard for skiers and snowboarders to enjoy the slopes.

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, more than 100 athletes put their name to a letter from US skier Andy Newell, who warned that climate change must be tackled due the reality of deteriorating snow conditions.

The Australian Olympic aerial skier Lydia Lassila added “given the unpredictable nature of our Aussie winter, many Australian athletes already train predominantly at overseas facilities or resorts.

“Although I would like to train on home soil, I haven’t been able to since 2009 due to inconsistency of the conditions.”

Connor concluded “these impacts increase exponentially the longer we stuff around. Team Australia, if I can borrow that phrase, needs to lift its climate game.

“If we don’t stop pumping heat-trapping pollutants into the atmosphere, things are going to get worse.

“To protect what we can of the health of our sports, major changes will be needed in facilities, playing policies and climate action.

Key findings include:

• 2014 was the world’s hottest year on record. In Australia, the frequency of extremely hot days has already doubled since 1960 with days over 35°C set to rise significantly. Rainfall patterns are changing with less rainfall in winter and spring across Southern Australia with intense rainfall events increasing nationwide.
• Heat policies across sports are beginning to evolve but many are unclear and inconsistently applied. Heat thresholds range from 34°C to 41°C. In 2014, major international tennis and cycling competitions were prime examples of the impact of heat on players and spectators, and the uncertainty around application of heat policies. 
• Drought can devastate community sport. Dried up, cracked surfaces during the Millennium Drought in 2007, for instance, saw three-quarters of AFL leagues in metro and rural Victoria delay or cancel their season. Upkeep of community grounds rose, and ticket sales dropped. 
• Sport brings significant revenues to the Australian economy, to the tune of $13 billion a year. But sporting events impacted by severe weather events are seeing significant drops in attendance and revenue. The 2014 Australian Open saw a loss of 12-15,000 spectators per day during particularly hot days. 
• Nine out of the 16 world cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics in the 20th century could not again guarantee proper snow conditions by the end of the 21st century. In Australia’s mountains, snow fall has diminished by more than a third in the last decade alone. Other studies predict slopes could be mostly bare of snow by 2050.
• Major sport venues are improving resilience at significant cost. New stadiums and upgrades now often include retractable roofs, synthetic surfaces, raised flooring and flood proofing, and equipment, and energy efficiencies to compensate for increased cooling costs.

Many if not all these changes are beyond local facilities.

Click here to view the full report, infographics, and interviews and supporting statements by athletes and administrators.

20th January 2015 - TURF AUSTRALIA WARNS COUNCILS AGAINST ‘FAKING IT’ FOR SPORTING GROUNDS

4th December 2014 - TENNIS AUSTRALIA ALTERS AUSTRALIAN OPEN EXTREME HEAT POLICY

2nd December 2014 - INNOVATIVE COOLING SYSTEM TO REDUCE ARTIFICIAL TURF TEMPERATURES

7th June 2014 - CLIMATE CHANGE THREAT TO AUSTRALIA’S SNOW INDUSTRY

16th January 2014 - CLIMATE COUNCIL: AUSTRALIAN HEATWAVES MORE FREQUENT, HOTTER AND LONGER

20th August 2013 - MOORE PARK GOLF’S ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM CERTIFIED WITH ISO 14001 CREDENTIALS

23rd February 2013 - IMPROVING SPORT’S ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT 

13th October 2010 - NEW HANDBOOKS EXPLAIN MANAGING RISK IN SPORT AND RECREATION

23rd December 2009 - A-LEAGUE PITCHES CAUSE CONCERN


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