Sport and climate change

Tony Abbott’s team talked a lot about sports and climate action as part of their campaign to prevent or postpone climate action. Things like sporting bodies facing high electricity prices for ground lighting for practice were falsely claimed to be the fault of carbon pricing (rather than mostly resulting from network charges, or dividends to State Governments).

They also talked as if the Clean Energy package  didn’t include compensation measures, so that people could meet the modest price rises that might actually happen for sport and other activities in life. Greg Combet exposed another myth like this one, about admission fees for swimming pools.

But there are real issues from climate change for sports, in the Australian community and at elite level.

As the West Australian Department of Sport and Recreation has said,

climate change is already forcing us to think differently about the simplest aspects of our lives

The National Climate Change Adaptation Framework included that 

The Sport and Recreation Ministers’ Council develop and implement an action plan to
assess, and develop strategies to address, the impact of climate change on sporting and
recreational activities.

No national action plan in this area appears to have emerged as yet. The National Sport and Active Recreation Policy Framework mentions climate change, once, to state that

Sport and active recreation should have shared policy agendas with multiple other portfolios across government, including ...  climate change .

Western Australia appears to have produced the most specific work in this area to date among Australian governments. The WA authorities discuss impacts from reduced rainfall and increased evaporation; higher temperatures; more frequent and extreme natural events; and sea level rise. Impacts they identified include:

  • Reduced irrigation of dedicated sportsgrounds and public open space, but increased evaporation requiring more water for existing turf
  • Damage to facilities such as tennis courts and cricket pitches
  • Forced, permanent or temporary closure of facilities
  • Increased evaporation at open water facilities
  • Limitations on school-based physical education programs or more indoor programs
  • More frequent heat stress-related events
  • Greater risk of storm or fire damage to facilities and infrastructure
  • Difficulty in obtaining extreme event insurance, and the risk that increased insurance costs may be prohibitive for individual club or group schemes
  • Disruption to electricity supplies during extreme events
  • Increased beach erosion from changing wave activity, making swimming and surfing dangerous.

A look at maps for sea level rise from OzCoasts shows that a range of community sports grounds in Australia – even some in Tony Abbott’s and Joe Hockey’s own electorates – will be directly affected by sea level rise predicted to result from global warming. Many of the sports grounds our communities rely on, of course , are in low lying areas next to rivers or oceans.

The risks posed by heatwaves were highlighted in January 2014, with players in the Australian Open tennis collapsing, vomiting, and experiencing hallucinations from the heat. The conditions made world-wide news.


  • Climate threats have been highlighted for the Tour de France as the world’s biggest outdoor sports event. (Here in Australia the Tour Down Under which generates over $40 million for South Australia is held in January … .)
  • Heat related deaths in American football have tripled since 1994, and many States have now introduced new restrictions on play and practice in hot conditions
  • Threats to the Winter Olympics have been highlighted this year (as discussed below).

Western Australia’s authorities, who have been particularly active in identifying issues about climate change and sport, don’t have snowfields to worry about, but of course there are issues about snow sports in Australia too.

The Victorian Government refused to release a 2012 report, Climate change impacts on snow in Victoria, but the ABC obtained it through a Freedom of Information request. The report predicts that by 2050, the maximum snow depth could decrease by up to 80 centimetres, and the ski season might shorten by more than two months.

As a nation, our love of sport and the outdoors is just one reason we need to do our share in preventing as much of global warming as we can. Sports bodies and industries need to adopt strategies to respond to the climate change we can’t avoid, and governments at all levels need to be working with them.

Will climate change affect the winter Olympics?

It’s already happening.

As you may have seen, athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, including Australian athletes, have been complaining about mushy snow, and slushy conditions at events like the halfpipe.

Over 100 athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics put out a statement drawing attention to the threat and calling for climate action. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News mocked their statement – but then Fox News even puts “climate change” in quotes.

All 5 cities vying for the 2022 Winter Olympics are likely to face climate change problems.

All of the candidate cities – Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing, China; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; and Oslo, Norway – will likely be facing temperatures near the upper limits of what each region has experienced in the past 150 years. That’s in just  2 Olympics time!

Cricket and climate change in the media 

get updates