How Will Climate Change Affect The World Of Sport?
We’re all starting to feel the effects of climate change increasingly as time goes on and it will touch all aspects of our lives sooner rather than later… even when it comes to the sports we love, whether that’s watching or playing.
Disruption to sports events is absolutely inevitable as the climate crisis continues to take hold around the world, with rising temperatures, more frequent and more extreme weather events and rising sea levels all likely to wreak havoc on many sports – and you may be surprised at which are likely to be most affected.
Of course, the likes of skiing and surfing are clearly going to be affected by the climate emergency. Skiing, for example, may well struggle in the face of warmer winters and more unreliable snowfall.
As for surfing, global sea level rises could impact surf breaks, with potential net losses of surf resources at reef breaks, increased beach erosion and the destruction of surf spots as a result of new coastal defence structures.
But field sports could also be put at risk by the changing climate, whether that’s compromising athlete and spectator safety, match cancellations or something else as a result of flooding, heatwaves and other such extreme conditions.
Here, we take a look at how different sports are faring with the challenges now being presented by the climate crisis and what’s being done to mitigate the impacts so we can continue to enjoy watching and participating in all our favourite events.
The potential impact of climate change on the sport was highlighted back in 2019 during the Rugby World Cup in Japan, with Typhoon Hagibis hitting the country towards the end of the competition and dumping an incredible three feet of rain in some parts of the country in just 24 hours.
On the pitch, this resulted in matches being cancelled for the first time ever in the history of the tournament, while others found themselves having to play on in incredibly wet and difficult conditions.
In the UK, clubs all over the country are now becoming increasingly climate responsible, implementing many different strategies to help fight climate change and boost their green credentials.
Leeds Rhinos, for example, recently brought in electric mowers that come complete with separate grass bins for pitch cuttings so they can be more easily recycled. In addition, reusable cups are now in use, as are wooden drink stirrers instead of plastic, Sky News reports.
As for the stadium, Emerald Headingley has become increasingly eco-friendly, boasting responsibly sourced building materials, more water-saving devices in the South and North stands, low carbon emission boilers, energy-efficient lifts and two vehicle charging points.
Meanwhile, both the Halliwell Jones and AJ Bell stadiums now have solar panels on the roof, while the former has also made investments in rainwater harvesting systems to provide a supply of water for use on the pitch.
The most obvious climate change impact for the game of golf is water stress, with supplies being put under increasing pressure from rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather events like drought and flooding. Water usage is problematic in this regard and it can no longer be assumed that mains water will be available for keeping the fairway green.
England Golf is now calling for courses around the country to start looking at how they can begin operating more sustainably and become more self-sufficient where water is concerned.
Short-term steps could include embracing drier, firmer conditions, increasing areas of natural vegetation that don’t need as much water to survive and prioritising parts of the course that need water the most, putting the green first, followed by tees and then fairways.
Water audits can also be carried out to see where reductions can be made – and how. And being more flexible in course maintenance can help accommodate changes in long-term climatic conditions.
Taking a longer term view, course managers could research and improve water storage options, invest in rainwater harvesting systems, review and optimise irrigation to reduce leakage and boost efficiencies and either write or update a water resource management plan.
It seems as though cricket is already undergoing some serious changes as a result of climate breakdown, with a recent report from BASIS, the UK sports industry’s sustainability hub, noting that natural systems like sunlight, temperature, soil and rainfall all have a big influence over the sport’s playing surface.
Conditions on the day of the match can also affect how the game plays out, with sunny and dry conditions favouring batting, while humid and overcast weather may benefit skilful bowlers. These conditions can change many times over the course of a few days and this, coupled with climate change, is sure to make game outcomes highly unpredictable, as a result.
Rising temperatures are already having an impact, with studies showing that youth matches were affected in Australia by heatwaves in 2017/2018, while that same year saw drought hit Cape Town hard during the Indian cricket tour of South Africa. And in Cumbria, Storm Desmond washed Appleby and Eden Cricket Club away in 2015/2016.
Heat is particularly concerning to the game, with implications including more matches being postponed, a dip in performance because of cognitive deterioration, increased likelihood of heat exhaustion, other heat illnesses and heat stroke that results in the need for medical intervention.
Drought is also problematic and cricket authorities in South Africa and India have been fielding calls for the last couple of years to minimise water usage during dry periods.
As water sources are put under increasing amounts of pressure, access is expected to become increasingly contested – and it’s likely that governments will start to prioritise supplies for food and drinking water, rather than sport.
The beautiful game is yet another sport whose future is being called into question at the moment, with a report from leading academic David Goldblatt warning that inside the next 30 years, a quarter of English league football grounds will face flood risks every season.
These issues have already reared their heads, with Carlisle United’s Brunton Park flooded back in 2015 during the torrential rain brought by Storm Desmond, which saw the club forced out of its home for seven weeks.
It seems this is only the beginning, with the report predicting that out of the 92 English league teams, 23 will see partial or total annual flooding of their stadiums by 2050. The most at risk Premier League teams were identified at the time of writing as Southampton’s St Marys, Norwich’s Carrow Road, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and West Ham’s Olympic Stadium.
In the Premiership, the report author identified seven at-risk stadiums, including Hull City and Cardiff City, both of which can expect their grounds to be entirely underwater by 2050.
Olympic history was made in 2021 when organisers of the tournament’s hockey matches decided to opt for turf made predominantly from regrowable raw materials, including Brazilian sugar cane… with the end result coming out bright blue!
Apparently, this bio-polyethylene surface uses two-thirds less water than other turf options – so it could well be a taste of things to come for field hockey in the future.
Becoming more water efficient could make a huge difference to the environmental impact of the sport, with thousands of litres of water used to irrigate pitches.
Watering hockey pitches has traditionally been carried out in the past because it can be safer for the players and gives them greater control over their slides, while allowing the ball to move more consistently than on a sand surface.
Typically freshwater is used for this application, so coming up with alternatives – whether that’s changing the actual pitch as in the Olympic Games or implementing water-saving measures like rainwater harvesting – could make a significant difference to water supplies.
In fact, the International Hockey Federation has called on those in the sport to develop and use surfaces that ensure play can continue to the same standards as now, but without the need to water the pitch.
In addition, the organisation is encouraging the use of technology to ensure water is used as sparingly as possible, including water harvesting for irrigation, recycling water and using turf that requires low amounts of water for the required player performance.
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