Climate crisis and its adverse impact on sports

Athletics faces an uncertain future in the face of the changing climate, says Sebastian Coe, President, World Athletics.

Published : Dec 11, 2023 11:05 IST - 3 MINS READ

Sebastian Coe.
Sebastian Coe. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Sebastian Coe. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

When the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) recently signed up for the UN Sport for Climate Framework, it was both encouraging news and disappointing. Encouraging that a national cricket body has finally taken the step, but disappointing since despite the need for urgent action, others haven’t. Some frustration too, since sport is in thrall of the sponsorship monies that fossil fuel companies bring in.

During the World Cup (Saudi Arabia’s oil company Aramco was one of the sponsors), India captain Rohit Sharma spoke of the worsening air quality in Mumbai and Delhi. But his plea had little impact.

Athletics faces an uncertain future in the face of the changing climate, says Sebastian Coe, President, World Athletics.

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According to  Playing Against the Clock, a 2020 report helmed by sociologist and football writer David Goldblatt, the International Olympic Committee has a carbon footprint close to that of Barbados. It has been calculated that sports generate roughly 0.6 percent of global emissions, about the same as Portugal or Spain.

In a keynote address at a symposium organised by The Sports Law & Policy Centre, Bengaluru last year, Goldblatt said there is no global solution to the climate crisis that does not include India. The debate on sport and climate, he said, “has lacked an Indian input.”

Sport involves stadium construction, use of non-recyclable equipment, and much air travel, so it is a contributor to the crisis. It is a victim too as recent events have shown.

At the 2014 Australian Open tennis, with temperatures above 40 degrees, Canadian player Frank Dancevic began hallucinating on court before vomiting and quitting. Eight others were forced to retire in the first round. Croatian Ivan Dodig said later, “I thought I would die on court.” Caroline Wozniacki’s water bottle melted as did Wilfred Tsonga’s sneakers. A thousand fans were treated for heat exhaustion.

The rugby World Cup in 2019 was disrupted by pacific typhoons, next year the Australian Open tennis had to deal with the smoke from the bush fires. The marathon event at the Tokyo Olympics had to be moved north to a less sweltering venue.

Of the 19 venues where the winter Olympics have been held, only six will be able to by 2080. Lack of snow was already a complaint at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. There is talk of shifting the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne to cooler March — summer maximums are expected to reach 50 degrees.

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“Constituent groups like sport are going to have to figure this out for themselves,” said Coe. “I don’t think we can rely on governments to remotely get to grips with what is going to be a massive shift in reality in the next few years.”

In the words of Barack Obama, “we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change — and the last generation which can do something about it.”

Coe has said air pollution could kill London as a sporting capital. Something for our officials to consider as they plan for the 2036 Olympics.

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