Australia’s increasingly warmer climate is fast becoming an issue for professional sport, with football’s summer scheduling putting it in the front line of change and mitigation.
The heat has already forced some games to be rescheduled in order to avoid the risks to players.
Despite being moved forward until 8.45am, a recent Y-League fixture between Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers still had to be abandoned just after halftime in the face of soaring temperatures.
Even the fans are concerned. Adelaide United’s active support group, The Red Army, announced that it would be boycotting any future afternoon home games played in similar, oppressive conditions following United’s round nine clash with Newcastle Jets.
The recent bushfire crisis has caused games to be cancelled because of smoke haze and air quality has become a regular concern for officials.
“We’ve been confronted with it daily,” PFA CEO John Didulica told The New Daily this week. “We’ve had to speak to clubs on a daily basis on how they’re monitoring training and monitoring the air quality index.
It’s shifted from being this theoretical discussion to being an acute problem.
“Yes, we can triage it in the short term by monitoring processes and putting in some protocols to manage it but what’s the macro answer to this? How do we future-proof our competitions from what we’re seeing at the moment?”
Football in Australia has been a summer sport since the NSL made the switch from the winter ahead of the 1989/90 season.
But the increasing heat is presenting new logistical challenges for the leagues in both the short and the long term.
“There’s not a specific climate change group,” Head of Leagues Greg O’Rourke said. “What there is, is a competition steering committee, which talks about the planning for the following seasons.
“Not just the next one, but the following seasons with respect to scheduling, which takes into account things such as climate change and other parts to the landscape in respect to when the most optimum time is to schedule games.”
Complicating the questioning of scheduling is the growth of the A-League and W-League.
Through southwest Sydney expansion side Macarthur FC, the A-League is set to grow from 11 to 12 teams in 2020/21 and take the number of weekly fixtures from five to six.
Furthermore, expansion of the W-League is also a stated goal for the years ahead and potentially adds a further one or two extra games into the mix; theoretically taking the number of A-League and W-League games every week to up to 12.
But with afternoon time slots becoming increasingly difficult to justify, The New Daily understands that other solutions for staging the extra fixtures are being investigated.
This includes exploring the logistics of playing games later in the evening on Saturdays and Sundays or placing them in timeslots described as sitting on “the shoulders” of the weekend such as Thursday, Friday and Monday nights.
The W-League currently plays one standalone fixture on Thursday nights, while both leagues have staged fixtures on Friday nights – the A-League regularly and the W-League on an intermittent basis.
Another solution, however, could involve the radical action of moving Australian football back to the winter.
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday suggested such a shift would bring Australia’s professional tier back into competition with the AFL and NRL for both attention and facilities, but it would allow the competition to escape the heat and realign it with Asian competitions and domestic lower tiers.
“There are clearly challenges at the moment,” Didulica said of the climate.
“The challenges used to just be constrained to extreme heat on matchdays and the challenges that created logistically and also in terms of the spectacle.
“But I think long-term we need to accept that existentially, the game needs to modify how it does things to deal with what’s coming.
“If we’re being prudent, we need to take a really broad view on how our leagues will operate given the likelihood that more extreme weather is unlikely to be the exception that it may possibly have been in the past.
“Either reconfigure the seasons or certainly develop a real deep dive on the way that we manage our seasons to avoid these extreme, increasingly common weather events or environmental issues.”
A-League Round 14
Friday: Newcastle Jets 1-2 Sydney FC
Saturday: Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers, Sky Stadium, 2.45pm; Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne City, Suncorp Stadium, 5pm; Perth Glory vs Adelaide United, HBF Park, 7.30pm
Sunday: Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory, Central Coast Stadium, 6pm
W-League Round 9
Sunday: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Brisbane Roar, Marconi Stadium, 4pm