It’s been shown in flooded football fields, postponed seasons, cancelled races, and even fainting players. No major sport is exempt from the encroaching influence of climate change, and, unfortunately, more is on the way. 

The increase in global temperatures due to climate change has been linked to heat stress on athletes which can have dire consequences on the body. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is projected to cause 38,000 extra deaths a year globally by worsening existing health problems and provoking heat stroke and exhaustion.

The significant threat that high temperatures pose to athletes is also the reason why the 2022 Qatar World Cup has been pushed back five months, now commencing in November 2022 and continuing through December, rather than June or July. Already one of the hottest areas in the world, Qatar has experienced increases in its average temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

This rapid acceleration can be attributed to the heavy construction that occurs around Doha, the capital, which in turn contributes to increased carbon emissions. Moreover, Qatar protrudes from Saudi Arabia into the warming waters of the Persian Gulf. Taking these factors into consideration, it’s clear that hosting the 2022 Qatar World Cup in the summer would force athletes to perform in unbearable conditions.

To survive this summer heat, however, Qatar has resorted to air-conditioning its soccer stadiums, including the glistening Al Janoub Stadium, where the Cup will be held. One of the first eight stadiums completed for the 2022 World Cup, Al Janoub is equipped with high-tech and powerful cooling systems. Aside from sporting venues, Qatar is also air-conditioning its marketplaces, sidewalks, and outdoor malls. However, this is only a temporary solution to a worsening issue.

The Al Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah, Qatar

Air pollution is another grave climatic threat to sports and athletes. Those who train in smoke and poor air quality inhale toxic volumes of air that can impede their lung function and reduce blood flow. For instance, Davila Jakupovic, a Slovenian tennis player, had to forfeit her match in the 2020 Australia Open due to a coughing fit she experienced while playing in the acrid smoke from the Australian wildfires. 

As global warming becomes more of a pressing issue, more of the planet’s water is evaporated, leading to larger volumes of water in the atmosphere and a greater risk of extreme downpours. With this heavy precipitation comes flooded fields, arenas, and other inundated sporting areas that are impossible to play on. For instance, during the final stretches of Hurricane Ida in September, the TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, New Jersey–home to the Somerset Patriots–was met with unprecedented flooding that left the ballpark and surrounding areas completely immersed in water.  Aside from the TD Bank Ballpark, a number of other sports stadiums situated on U.S. coastlines face the threat of flooding as well, including popular venues like the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, TD Garden in Boston, and Citi Field in New York.

Despite the damage climate change can inflict on professional sports, these sports are also the very key to unifying us against environmental pressures, prompting us to make change. Take, for instance, the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced its plans to make this sweeping sporting event more sustainable by powering the games with renewable energy, initiating a carbon offset program, and making climate change an underlying factor for the selection of host cities, motivating these cities to assume sustainable practices. 

In the IOC’s recent Sustainability Progress Update, the committee presented the substantial progress and key achievements they made in 2019. One of their major successes was the Olympic House, the IOC’s new headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, which was recognized as one of the most sustainable buildings in the world and was awarded three prestigious sustainable construction awards. 

The International Olympic Committee’s Headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland

Moreover, several major Olympic partners, including P&G, Coca-Cola, and Toyota, launched several initiatives to demonstrate sustainability at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. For example, in a joint partnership between P&G and Tokyo 2020, the podiums for last year’s Olympic games were made of plastics, like shampoo bottles, either donated by the public or retrieved from oceans. After the Games, these podiums were recycled once more into packaging for P & G products.

The IOC has successfully used their global influence to spark change on an international scale, setting the precedent for other acclaimed sporting groups to follow their footsteps in combating climate change. 

Sports provide society with an outlet and the opportunity to put aside the pressures of people’s daily lives to bond with a community of people from across the world. Yet climate change has found its way into these pastimes and passions and is putting sports at stake. In short, the tomorrow of athletics depends on the climate action of today. 

Posted by Shifa Shaikh

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