Sport is a major part of Australian culture. Every weekend, millions of Australians participate in, watch or discuss sport. Sporting legends are idolised and our national teams and clubs are revered. But Australia’s summer of sport is under threat from climate change. Driven largely by the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), climate change is worsening extreme weather events and disrupting Australian sport.
Game, Set, Match: Calling Time on Climate Inaction describes how climate change is affecting sport in Australia, and how sport can also be a powerful force for change.
1. Australia’s summer of sport is under threat from climate change.
- Climate change, driven largely by the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), is worsening extreme weather events and disrupting Australian sport.
- Australia’s summer sports calendar, which includes Big Bash League (BBL) cricket, AFLW games, the Tour Down Under cycling race, the Australian Open tennis, A and W-League football and community sports is threatened by climate change.
2. By 2040, heatwaves in Sydney and Melbourne could reach highs of 50°C, threatening the viability of summer sport as it is currently played.
- Heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occurring more often.
- While 2010-2019 was the warmest decade over the past century, it is also likely to be the coolest decade of the century ahead.
- 2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record, with 33 days that exceeded 39°C – more than the total number between 1960 and 2018.
- If global emissions continue to increase, Australian sports will have to make significant changes, such as playing summer games in the evening or switching schedules to spring and autumn.
3. No athlete, whether an elite professional or a community player, is immune to our increasingly hot summers, which are a health hazard for those playing and watching sport.
- Climate change is driving longer and more intense bushfire seasons, exposing athletes and spectators to dangerous air pollution, for which professional players are a particularly sensitive group.
- Many athletes and spectators have fallen seriously ill following exposure to extreme heat in recent years. For example:
- Tennis: Temperatures at the Australian Open Tennis in Melbourne have repeatedly hit +40°C with games suspended and players taken to hospital. In 2014, almost 1,000 spectators were treated for heat exhaustion.
- Triathlon: On 2 March 2016, temperatures reached 34°C in Penrith during the NSW All Schools Triathlon Championships at the nearby Sydney International Regatta Centre. Paramedics were called following reports of nine people suffering from heat exposure during the event.
- Cricket: In January 2018, at the Sydney Ashes Test, England’s captain Joe Root was hospitalised as air temperature hit 41.9°C. In December 2019, New Zealand cancelled part of a warmup match in Melbourne because the temperature was forecast to reach 45°C.
- Prolonged drought in Australia has resulted in an increase in shoulder injuries due to sport being played on harder, rain-parched grounds. For example, shoulder injuries increased by 23 percent in 2001 (during the Millennium Drought), compared to 1994 levels.
4. Australian sport is worth $50 billion to the economy and employs over 220,000 people, but governments are not adequately prepared for escalating climate risks.
- None of Australia’s major sports plans, including the Federal Government’s first national sports plan, discuss or tackle the implications of climate change on sport.
- Climate disruption is a growing cost for sport in Australia, including infrastructure maintenance and rising insurance premiums.
- Elite venues may be able to afford expensive upgrades, but local venues will not.
- Australia can help protect sport by becoming part of the global solution to climate change by rapidly and deeply reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to renewable energy and storage.
5. Sport is a contributor to climate change, but it can also be an integral part of the solution.
- Sporting clubs and codes contribute to climate change but can rapidly cut their own greenhouse gas emissions by changing the way they build venues, power events, travel and by cutting waste.
- Athletes and other sporting leaders can become powerful advocates for change, both within sport and outside of it, by using their star appeal to educate and influence others.
- Professional and community sports can switch sponsorship from fossil fuel-backed companies to ones that invest in climate solutions.
- All sporting codes and leagues should have science-based, regularly updated policies that cover heat, bushfire smoke and other extreme weather events to protect athletes and spectators.
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