Life Science Environment Climate change threatens future of Australian Open and summer sports
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Climate change threatens future of Australian Open and summer sports

New research has revealed that the future of the Australian Open and other summer sporting events is under threat due to climate change. Photo: Getty/TND
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As the Morrison government pours millions into rebuilding Australia’s reputation as a tourist destination, new research shows the future of the Australian Open and other summer sporting events is under threat due to climate change.

From grassroots to the professional level, popular summer sports including tennis, cycling and cricket could become casualties of the crisis, new research by the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub (MCCCRH) has revealed.

“Australian tennis is already experiencing the impact of climate change, with smoke from bushfires and extreme heat driven by climate change increasing health risks for players and the likelihood of match disruptions,” the report commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said.

Under current greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, the number of extreme heat days in Melbourne during January is expected to increase significantly over the next 40–60 years, while November and March will be comparable to recent Januarys.’’

The warning comes as the Australian Open kicks off in Melbourne following a qualifying tournament last week in which players struggled to cope with high temperatures and air polluted by bushfire smoke.

In dramatic scenes, Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic collapsed on court last Tuesday, when the air quality in Melbourne was rated as “hazardous” by the Environmental Protection Authority and the temperature hit 33 degrees Celsius.

Australian Bernard Tomic also required medical attention during his match on the same day, telling medical staff “I just can’t breathe”.

Tennis players, including Australian Bernard Tomic, have struggled with Melbourne’s poor air quality and extreme heat. Photo: Getty

Australian Open may have to move to November or March

Tennis Australia must consider policy changes to protect players from climate change-driven extreme heat if the sport is to remain viable in longer and hotter Australian summers, the report said.

Recommendations included extending the length of the Australian Open, allowing games to be cancelled if it’s too hot on court, and moving the event to November or March.

Australia risks losing the grand slam to another country with a more suitable climate should we fail to meaningfully address climate change and mitigate its impact on players and spectators, ACF director of campaigns Paul Sinclair told The New Daily. 

“The question for sports governing bodies is: Is your sport viable under the just-over-one degree temperature rise we’ve already had, and do you think under ‘business as usual’ with a three to five degree temperature rise your sport is viable?” Dr Sinclair said.

Clearly, sports such as tennis and cycling are not viable in their current format.’’

Australia’s climate has warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1910, CSIRO figures show, with scientists warning that the effects of climate change will become catastrophic if the world warms past 2 degrees Celsius.

The nation’s biggest cycling race, the Tour Down Under, faces similar challenges to the Australian Open, a second report by the MCCCRH found, with Adelaide also facing an increase in extreme heat days over coming decades that could force organisers to move the tour away from mid-summer.

“Events like [the Australian Open and the Tour Down Under] play a big role in our national and cultural identity,” MCCCRH scientist and report co-author James Goldie said.

“Governing bodies including Cycling Australia and Tennis Australia have a chance to show leadership on the issue of climate change.”

The ACF commended Tennis Australia for signing up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, but urged the organisation to “raise its voice for strong, meaningful climate action from our government”.

“Tennis authorities have a responsibility to recognise the threat climate change presents to the Australian Open’s future as a January tournament,” the ACF’s Gavan McFadzean said.

“Appropriate heat policies are important to protect player health, but so is action to combat climate change, which is driving this extreme heat and more ferocious bushfire seasons.”

Climate change could smash tourism industry

MCCCRH’s findings follow the federal government’s $76 million bid to win back tourists deterred by devastating bushfires that have been raging since September.

Australian tourism is facing its biggest challenge in living memory,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement on Sunday.

“This is about getting more visitors to help keep local businesses alive and protect local jobs right across the country and especially in those areas so directly devastated such as Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, the Blue Mountains and right along the NSW coast and East Gippsland in Victoria.”

Tourism is Australia’s fourth-largest export earner and one of the nation’s biggest employers, providing around 666,000 jobs in 2018-19, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

More than nine million overseas visitors came to Australia during 2018-19, with domestic and international tourists spending a combined $146 billion.

However, with images of the environmental destruction wreaked by bushfires on the front page of newspapers and TV screens around the world, many fear the government’s failure to address climate change has jeopardised the tourism industry’s future.

Climate change is threatening the survival of some of the nation’s biggest tourist drawcards including the Great Barrier Reef – which has a “very poor” longterm-outlook, according to a recent federal government report – and the koala, which ecologists fear could be extinct in the wild by 2050.

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