Deep heat threat to this sporting life Opinion Article

Feb 04, 2015 - 11:24am

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 4 February 2015. 

John Connor   
CEO, The Climate Institute

Weather on steroids is one way scientists describe global warming’s impact on our climate. It is and will be slugging Australians in cities, on farms, and even at the footy.

Heatwaves, drought and extreme rain threaten sport, whether at local grounds or in professional tournaments. Player and spectator health is at risk, venue management is tested. Football, cricket, tennis, skiing and more are struggling to cope.

There’s only so much snow sports can do when forecasts suggest the slopes will be mostly bare by 2050. Other sports have more options but will certainly have to cope with more heat. The number of extremely hot days has doubled since the 1960s with more to come. Sydney, for example, will have four times as many days over 35°C by the end of the century.

The Climate Institute has released research showing how climate change affects sport. We found many sports’ heat policies were mixed, often confused and conflicting across local, national and international levels. Some sports appear to be stepping up to the plate. Last year’s Australian Open featured tennis players and ball kids collapsing, hallucinating and vomiting on court during four days of temperatures over 41°C. After heavy criticism, the Open set clearer temperature triggers for protective action. But all sports need to take heat seriously to ensure player safety.

Heatwaves, drier soil, and more intense rainfall all play havoc with grounds and infrastructure. Top venues can invest in infrastructure for energy and water efficiency, and changes to keep players and fans safe like high-tech turf, retractable roofs and smarter cooling. But at the community level there are fewer resources. CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology data shows less than 1°C of warming is making Australia hotter, changing rainfall patterns and raising sea levels. Without deep pollution cuts, temperatures could rise more than 5°C with devastating impacts on prosperity.

This is a global problem requiring a global effort but Team Australia needs to lift its game. Administrators and politicians all have to do their bit. But no player, heat policy or stadium can solve the problem if we don’t stop pumping heat-trapping carbon pollution into our atmosphere.

John Connor

John Connor was CEO of The Climate Institute from 2007 to March 2017. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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