In September 2020, the Climate Reality Project anticipated that climate change would pose a greater threat to the future of sports than the Covid-19 pandemic could. While this was already a concern at various levels of society, this has become a reality. Although major sports events such as the 2020 Olympic Games and the 2020 UEFA EURO were postponed to summer 2021 due to the pandemic, it is noted that rising temperatures started showing long-term, alarming effects on athletes and their surroundings. That being said, it is crucial to understand that tackling climate change – particularly global warming – should remain a global and multilevel priority in human activities, because it will affect every level of our quality of life– from the actual habitability of our surroundings, to the disruption of the entertainment and joy we find in sporting events, today and in the future.
Athletic Performance and Heatwaves
This year, there have been several reports of climate-related effects on athletes’ performances.
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the number one tennis professional Novak Djokovic claimed that weather conditions were “brutal” and “very tough”, while Daniil Medvedev requested a “mobile air conditioner” after their first round. Djokovic added that he had experienced the “hottest day so far” since the opening of the Games, as the temperature rose to 34 degrees Celsius. Djokovic has previously commented on the harmful effects of rising temperatures on his performances and health conditions during the 2018 US Open, suggesting a trend of worsening conditions for athletes due to steadily rising temperatures. According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, air pollution – fueling heat waves and oxygen depletion – has serious impacts on athletes’ respiratory and cardiovascular systems, which in turn reduces the quality of their performances, and could cause long-term poor health conditions. As temperatures are still rising, it is clear that more athletes and sports events will be affected in the long run.
Additionally, the World Health Organization predicted in 2019 that between 2030 and 2050, rising temperatures are likely to cause an added 38,000 deaths to yearly global victims. It is undeniably a reality towards which humanity is heading. Addressing global warming as a major athletic issue thus requires a large-scale response.
A Sports Concern to an All-Level Climate Solution
Despite the fact that extreme heat policies have been adopted – using heat index to anticipate the occurrence of extreme heat, its related illnesses and potential fatalities as to take preventive actions – and more winter events pushed by various institutions such as the FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and a few states, these options appear to be limited when it comes to effectively tackling global warming. As the latter has wider implications, it is crucial that these efforts are combined with genuine local, national, and international commitments. Germany, Australia, Belgium, China, the United States, and the United Kingdom, to mention a few, are gradually experiencing severe flooding, bushfires, and heavy rains related to global warming. These extreme weather events not only prove a risk to the future survival and quality of life of our planet’s species, they threaten what it means to be human– creativity, joy, competition– by endangering current and future sports events globally. Thus, adaptation is no longer an option, nor is it enough. While climate change mitigation is well known and is being implemented at different levels of human activities, seeing and comprehending the effects of global warming in sports remains an important trigger to catalyze global engagement with the issue.