What impacts will climate change have on sport?

As a nation, our love of sport and the outdoors is just one reason we need to do our share in preventing as much of global warming as we can. Sports bodies and industries need to adopt strategies to respond to the climate change we can’t avoid, and governments at all levels need to be working with them.

Tony Abbott’s team talked a lot about sports and climate action as part of their campaign to prevent or postpone climate action. Things like sporting bodies facing high electricity prices for ground lighting for practice were falsely claimed to be the fault of carbon pricing (rather than mostly resulting from network charges, or dividends to State Liberal Governments).

They also talked as if the Clean Energy package didn’t include compensation measures, so that people could meet modest price rises that might actually happen for sport and other activities in life. Greg Combet exposed another myth like this one, about admission fees for swimming pools.

But there are real issues from climate change for sports, in the Australian community and at elite level.

As the West Australian Department of Sport and Recreation has said,

climate change is already forcing us to think differently about the simplest aspects of our lives

The WA authorities discuss impacts from reduced rainfall and increased evaporation; higher temperatures; more frequent and extreme natural events; and sea level rise. Impacts they identified include:

  • Reduced irrigation of dedicated sportsgrounds and public open space, but increased evaporation requiring more water for existing turf
  • Damage to facilities such as tennis courts and cricket pitches
  • Forced, permanent or temporary closure of facilities
  • Increased evaporation at open water facilities
  • Limitations on school-based physical education programs or more indoor programs
  • More frequent heat stress-related events
  • Greater risk of storm or fire damage to facilities and infrastructure
  • Difficulty in obtaining extreme event insurance, and the risk that increased insurance costs may be prohibitive for individual club or group schemes
  • Disruption to electricity supplies during extreme events
  • Increased beach erosion from changing wave activity, making swimming and surfing dangerous.

The risks posed by heatwaves were highlighted in January 2014, with players in the Australian Open tennis collapsing, vomiting, and experiencing hallucinations from the heat. The conditions made world-wide news.


  • Climate threats have been highlighted for the Tour de France as the world’s biggest outdoor sports event. (Here in Australia the Tour Down Under which generates over $40 million for South Australia is held in January … .)
  • Heat related deaths in American football have tripled since 1994, and many States have now introduced new restrictions on play and practice in hot conditions
  • Threats to the Winter Olympics have been highlighted this year (as discussed below).

Western Australia’s authorities, who have been particularly active in identifying issues about climate change and sport, don’t have snowfields to worry about, but of course there are issues about snow sports in Australia too.

The Victorian Government refused to release a 2012 report, Climate change impacts on snow in Victoria, but the ABC obtained it through a Freedom of Information request. The report predicts that by 2050, the maximum snow depth could decrease by up to 80 centimetres, and the ski season might shorten by more than two months.

A close look at maps for sea level rise from OzCoasts shows that a range of community sports grounds in Australia – even some in Tony Abbott’s and Joe Hockey’s own electorates – will be directly affected by sea level rise predicted to result from global warming. Many of the sports grounds our communities rely on, of course , are in low lying areas next to rivers or oceans.

For more on this issue, see http://climatechangecricketclub.com/

Will climate change affect the winter Olympics?

>It’s already happening.

Athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, including Australian athletes, were complaining about mushy snow, and slushy conditions at events like the halfpipe.

Over 100 athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics put out a statement drawing attention to the threat and calling for climate action. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News mocked their statement – but then Fox News even puts “climate change” in quotes.

All 5 cities (vying for the 2022 Winter Olympics are likely to face climate change problems.

All of the candidate cities – Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing, China; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; and Oslo, Norway – will likely be facing temperatures near the upper limits of what each region has experienced in the past 150 years. That’s in just 2 Olympics time!

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