Media release – climate change and sport

Climate change and extreme weather events threaten the viability of Australian sport as it’s currently played, according to a new report released by The Climate Institute. Heatwaves, changed rain patterns, floods, and drought are challenging all forms of sport from the back yard through to professional tournaments, according to to a new report released by The Climate Institute. Heatwaves, changed rain patterns, floods, and drought are challenging all forms of sport from the back yard through to professional tournaments, according to Sports and climate impacts: How much heat can sport handle?

Climate impacts on sport infographic

Report infographic. Source: Climate Institute

Representatives from the Border’s sporting community agree that sport is embedded in Australian society and that climate change will have negative impacts on participation levels and the Australian economy. “Sport is great for physical and mental health, as well as building community cohesion,” said local lawyer, James Sloan, an avid cyclist, canoeist, runner and triathlete.

The report finds that many sports are struggling to cope, especially at the local level. Heat policies are often ambiguous and vary at state, national and international level, with ambiguity about application. Duty of care thresholds vary within and across sports from 32°C to 41°C. Athletes are at particular risk, as are vulnerable spectators, especially children and the elderly.

Mr Sloan has noticed the impacts of rising temperatures, bushfires and smoke on both competitive and recreational sports across the region. “The Australia Day Alpine Audax bike ride in Bright attracts around 2000 cyclists but is at growing risk of cancellation due to extreme heat or bushfires. It’s happened once and will happen more in future. One time I recorded 47°C as I was cycling up Mt Buffalo; the alpine areas are usually cooler, but that’s no longer guaranteed in summer. The Murray River Canoe Marathon is in its 45th year but last year moved from its traditional Christmas/New Year slot to November because of the greater bushfire risk in the Barmah Forrest at the end of December. This has led to a drop in numbers as less people were able to compete in November. However, what particularly concerns me is fewer people commuting by bike or on foot due to extreme temperatures. I’m prepared to tough it out during my daily commute and I understand others need to play it safe, but by driving instead of cycling or walking people exercise less and, paradoxically, produce more of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.”

Snow sports are also hard hit and their viability in Australia is significantly threatened. Rising temperatures have led to a loss of as much as 40 per cent of snow cover since the 1980s. This has hurt winter tourism in the Australian alps, while many winter athletes like skiers and snowboarders have gone overseas to train.

Mt Beauty resident Ian Franzke is a former national cross country skier and acutely aware of the decreasing length of the local ski season. “My personal observation is that climate change hasn’t so much affected the depth and amount of snow, but the season is definitely shorter – it’s starting later and finishing earlier,” he said. “It doesn’t need much change to destroy the snow season; a one to two degree Celsius change makes a huge difference.”

CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology predict the number of days over 35°C across the nation will increase significantly by the end of the century. An extreme case is Darwin, where, if we continue on our high emissions trajectory, the number of days over 35°C will increase from 11 per year at present to about 265 days per year in 2090. Similarly, hot days will treble in Melbourne and be six times higher in Canberra, with Albury-Wodonga likely to experience increases within this range.

“We’ve been very lucky to have had such a mild summer this year”, said Lizette Salmon, spokesperson for Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health (WATCH), “but the general trend is for increasing temperatures, like those at last year’s Australian Open, when it got to 44°C. Players’ sneakers and water bottles melted and more than a thousand fans were treated for heat exhaustion. If we continue to fail to tackle the challenge of climate change, sports and much more will suffer.”

Note: An article generated by this media release was published in The Border Mail on Saturday 31 January 2015. See this post for details.

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