The Australian Open was hot this year. Unusually hot. Temperatures reached 111 degrees fahrenheit. Play was postponed, the roof on Rod Laver Arena closed, and one athlete forfeited her match due to smoke caused by the nearby wildfires. The extreme weather was not confined within the gates of the grand slam. Australia experienced power outages, poor air quality and bushfires in January.
The heat wave got some sports journalists to reckon with the effects of climate change. For others, it was an intriguing sidebar before diving back into the other issues at hand. At the time, the NBA was in full swing, The Chiefs and 49ers were set to play in the Super Bowl, and college basketball players were getting ready for March Madness.
Environmentalism is not a hot topic in mainstream sports coverage, but maybe it should be. The 50th Earth Day seems like the perfect time to address some of the climate related issues in sports.
Outdoor winter sports are clearly vulnerable to climate change. Studies have shown that warming winters have adverse effects on sports that rely on snow. Many venues that host annual winter sports events have been restructured, canceled, or moved to colder climates.
Additional reporting suggests that many Winter Olympic sites will be too warm to host the games in a future, high emissions, scenario.
Within the last decade, Winter Olympic sites have received shipments of snow and athletes have had to navigate the consequences of unnaturally warm weather. And in 2022, events at Beijing’s Winter Games will occur on a mountain with little to no annual snowfall.
For most sports fans, skiing and snowboarding are relevant every four years. But for the athletes that make a living in the outdoors every day, the issue hits close to home.
Professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones founded “Protect Our Winters” (POW) in 2007 to mobilize athletes into climate activists. Since then, the organization has partnered with athletes, scientists, and brands, to craft a climate policy agenda.
Jones has testified on Capitol Hill twice. First, in 2017, in front of the committee on energy and commerce. He told congressional leaders, “our seasons are noticeably shorter. If we don’t act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we could see an end of winter as we know it… I respectfully ask that you act on climate and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to ensure the future and prosperity of outdoor recreation.”
Last year, Jones returned to speak to Senate Democrats about athletes and their fight against climate change. In both instances, Jones stressed the importance of climate legislation for the country to improve the well-being of the natural world.
But it’s not just adventure athletes who have spoken out against climate change. Harvard football captain, Wesley Ogsbury, supported students at the #NobodyWins protest during the 2019 Harvard-Yale football game. The student coalition from Harvard and Yale disrupted the game at halftime to demand both institutions divest from fossil fuels.
In addition to winter sports, some summer games are at risk, too. Sea level rise could destroy golf courses along flood prone coasts, including St. Andrews in the United Kingdom.
Some even wonder if the unsustainable practice of golf course building is too toxic for a world grappling with climate change.
The mainstream sports, the big four, as some say, are mostly protected from the climate discussion. Basketball and hockey players play inside. And football and baseball players play in mild to moderate, seasonal temperatures.
But don’t be surprised if major sporting events are impacted by climate events in the coming years. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a wildfire could encroach on Dodger Stadium or coastal flooding could alter the Oakland A’s waterfront stadium plans.
The sports world is not hermetically sealed. It is not sheltered from politics, racism, sexism, or, for that matter, the coronavirus. Climate change will impact the sports world for years to come. What better time to start talking about it than now?