What if,

  • Football in Africa is experiencing snowfall,
  • The time limit of a game is minimized to 50 minutes due to contaminated air,
  • There are eight substitutes authorized in a match.

The world of sports often goes crazy for minor changes. What if these are minor changes? These conditions are possible and could be authentic in the future.

Climate change is a critical topic that needs to be explored from every perspective. Climate-induced difficulties affect various agriculture, settlement, development, and research.

Climate fluctuation impacts on sports are our global concern. People connect to every aspect of a game; a player, match style, moments, decisions, supporters, and even advertisements.

Winter Olympics - climate change threatens sports
Climate Change impact on winter Olympics showcasing snow depletion on the background (source)

The above image represents the fate of the winter Olympics in this ongoing global heat inflation. It is now time to care about this un-admired aspect of sports, the impact of climate change on sports.

There are various threats to sports due to climate shifts. This blog post tries to insight some past scenarios, sharpening climate change risk on sports events.

Why is it hot in here?

At the moment, some people might be yelling, “let’s feel the heat,” but this might be a fact for a sportsman somewhere else. 

Ever heard the word ‘thermoregulation’? It is a transfer or movement of heat throughout the body, an essential body procedure. The feeling of extreme warmth may disrupt this crucial heat flow on the body. 

There are many examples of such incidents. In cricket, an Australian cricketer Joe Root collapsed on the ground as the temperature of the stadium reached an unsettling 57 degrees Celsius. The organizers then reformed some game policies to make cricket much safer for players.

It is shocking to know that since 1995, 64 football players have died from heatstroke. 90% of these deaths occurred during the training period. So one can say training periods are much more unsafe than actual games.

The threat is still on as we recently witnessed an important sports event, the Tokyo Olympics, in the hottest months of Japan, July and August. The heatwaves were so deadly that they had to reschedule the Olympic marathon at 6 a.m. to avoid the midday heat. 

The extreme temperature rise affected indoor events too. A famous tennis player Novak Djokovic suffered due to sweltering humidity in the US open 2018. Numerous other tennis players retired due to extreme heat.

In July 2019, the extreme heat in New Jersey delayed the Haskell Invitational, the biggest horse race of the year, to protect the horses. The impact of the cancellation decreased the betting amount drastically.

A recent Euro cup event, 2021, experienced a high-temperature scenario leading to extra cooling breaks and more player substitute options. Women’s world cup 2019 also implemented such time breaks on similar climate scenarios.

Cooling break - climate change threatens sports
Cooling break due to immense heat during the 2019 women’s world cup (source)

Every sport in water

How much do you like swimming or any other water sports? The recent analysis shows that many sports venues might be flooded soon as the sea level rises. One out of four English football league football stadiums might face flooding every year by 2050.

The American Airlines Arena of Miami Heat will be 1.5 feet of water as the sea level rises by 6 feet. There are numerous other events of flooding of stadiums and arenas which threaten more severe conditions in the upcoming future.

Recently on September 2, TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater submerged underwater. The home to Minor league baseball team Somerset Patriots had this fate due to heavy rainfall from Hurricane Ida remnants.

The overflow from Pigeon River destroyed portions of Pisgah Memorial Stadium and the baseball and softball fields at PHS. The authorities spent a lot of money reshaping the area for future gameplays.

Stadium in water - climate change threatens sports
Submerged Ball Park stadium in 2021 (source)

Breathing issues

The athletes are at continuous risk of decreasing lung function and minimal flow. This problem arises due to poor air quality during training and performances. 

The wildfire smoke from the CampFire increased contamination levels which delayed the Berkeley Half Marathon in November 2018. The even more sad truth was that the organizers planned to donate the sales and profits of this marathon to fire victims of Butte country.

January 2020 saw a horrific event at the Australian Open. Slovenia’s Davila Jakupovic was severely affected by smoke from the bushfire, and medics had to escort her to the nearest medical facility.

Many agencies and authorities considered this event a most painful climate-induced sports crisis.

In 2020 September, the Baseball players in the Oakland Athletics center had to wear a mask to protect them from wildfire. Some games were slow-paced with many botches as players did not see any strikes swinging above 140 feet.

Cricketers faced a gloomy nonvisible cricket stadium during a bushfire in Australia in 2019. They had difficulty seeing a ball, catching a catch, and arranging fielders. In 2020, the organizers delayed the cricket game under similar circumstances.

Gloomy cricket - climate change threatens sports
A gloomy cricket under an Australian bushfire in 2019 (source)

Minimizing climate change risk

We resemble every possible sector responsible for ensuring sports and sportsman safety. Every industry has some possible steps, mainly authorities, guardians, and athletes. 

Roles of authorities

  • Implementing sustainable rules regarding athletes exposure to worse climate conditions,
  • Planning crucial sports events under ideal climatic and geographic settings,
  • Strict regulations for constructions and setups for sports events,
  • Educate all coaches, guardians, audiences, and viewers of possible climate-induced sports crises.

Roles of Guardians

  • Medical screening for athletes before participating in an event,
  • Identification of prone players to heat illness and breathing difficulties,
  • Sketch physical activities based on climatic conditions such as duration of the break, the timing of an event and the venue,
  • Adequate availability of medics and fluids.

Roles of athletes

  • Minimize harsh climate exposure,
  • Avoid soggy locality,
  • Maintain Hydration,
  • Monitor each other’s health condition,
  • Wear ideal clothes,
  • Keep an update of climatic conditions where the event takes place.

Conclusion

There might be very few people following climate science, but millions follow sports. Sports could be an ideal platform to inform people about climate change risks.

This awareness could be our chance to achieve climate goals. The help from all people with various backgrounds will accelerate this achievement.

It is time to choose either its ‘win-win’ or ‘lose-lose’ situation for us. Be conscious and save sports or be careless and ruin our environment too.

(Last Updated on March 1, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Sadrish Dabadi is a Master’s degree graduate in Mountain Ecology and Glaciology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China. His expertise in climate change impacts on people and ecology makes him an ideal consultant for environmental problems. Hills and forests, rivers and lakes, valleys and mountains, oceans and seas, you can name more; These will always be things that he will love more than any materialistic gifts!