Australia’s iconic sporting events feeling the heat

09.01.19 By

Summer kicks off a series of international sporting events in Australia. From the cricket tests, to the Tour Down Under starting on 10 January in Adelaide to the Australian Open on 14 January in Melbourne.

Climate change and extreme weather events, like the heatwaves we see this time of year, threaten the viability of Australian sport as it’s currently played. Whether it’s an international event like the Aus Open, a local school game, or a bit of backyard cricket. Unfortunately, in Australia, these summer sporting events can often coincide with heatwaves. 

With climate change, heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occuring more often. In terms of sporting events, heatwaves can have significant impacts on the health of competitors and spectators.

Australian Open

Heatwaves coinciding with the Australian Open has been a recurring issue in Australia.

Last year the Australian Open injected $280 million into the Victorian economy, and supported 1,100 jobs. It’s a smash hit for the economy.

However, 2018 saw tennis matches played in temperatures reaching the high 30°C and 40°Cs. In particular, a two-day heatwave which saw temperatures reach above 40°C led to players suffering health impacts and prompted the Australian Open officials to review the tournament’s extreme heat policy. When temperatures are high outside, the outside tennis courts can be even hotter. In 2018, the on court temperature was reported as reaching 69 degrees Celcius.

Following the 2018 heat, experts recommended changing the timing of the tournament or the design of tennis courts to provide as much shade as possible, incorporating plants and greater air movement. In other words, they started to consider ways to ace a response to climate impacts such as heatwaves.

Performing in extreme heat could have severe health outcomes for athletes. In 2014, temperatures hit over 40°C for several days in a row, with players fainting, vomiting and suffering cramps.  One player even described the conditions as “inhumane”.

Australian Open Tennis, court 2 by Flickr user Hannah licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Tour Down Under

The Tour Down Under in South Australia is Australia’s premier cycling event. The nine-day cycling race held in January attracts top international cyclists drawing Australian and international crowds.

In 2018, the event contributed over $63 million to South Australia’s economy, supported over 700 jobs and attracted 810,000 roadside onlookers, as well as a local and international media coverage reaching more than 500 million people.

Heatwaves during the event in 2018 affected crowd numbers and resulted in organisers shifting gears to adapt to the conditions by making changes to key stages, cancelling side events and ensuring tour doctors were on alert for signs of heat stress.

TDU 2018-1 by Flickr user Stephen Beaumont licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Extreme heat and health

Extreme heat events – particularly prolonged heatwaves – can have severe effects on human health. The health impacts of heat include both direct heat illnesses (e.g. heat exhaustion) and indirect illnesses (e.g. cardiovascular failure). As extreme heat events worsen, due to climate change, the risk of adverse human health impacts is increasing.

What to do in a heatwave

For more information, read the Climate Council’s The Silent Killer: Climate change and the health impacts of extreme heat.