As elite athletes from around the globe compete for gold, silver, and bronze as part of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the temperature crept over 60 degrees in Sochi, Russia. Olympic organizers had to tap the more than 710,000 cubic meters of snow, the equivalent of about 1,000 football fields, stockpiled over two winters to ensure there was enough snow for the outdoor events. Are these steps for dealing with weather unpredictability and unseasonably warm temperatures the new normal for Winter Olympics?
A recent study found that because of climate change impacts only 6 of the past 19 locations that previously hosted the winter games would be able to do so by the end of the century. In April, 75 Olympic medalists and winter athletes sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take action to address climate change. Their livelihoods depend on winter, and “winter is in trouble.”
The Winter Olympics isn’t the only sporting event feeling the impact of climate change. Baseball and football, two of America’s favorite pastimes, are also in danger. Warmer winters can lead to larger insect populations, which have actually interrupted play during baseball games, according to an E&E Publishing article. It also noted that more extreme heat puts both players and fans at risk.
But as the article points out, professional teams are well aware of heat-related dangers and have medical teams on hand. High school athletes appear to be more at risk than professional teams. A 2012 study found that between 1994 and 2009 heat-related deaths of high school football players tripled compared to the previous 15 years.
Earlier this year, extreme heat also halted play at the Australian Open when the temperature topped 109 degrees. The Australian Climate Council recently issued a report stating that “heatwaves in Australia are becoming more frequent, hotter, and are lasting longer because of climate change.”
Extreme heat is expected to continue, and U.S. sports leagues have started to take action.
In November, the co-chairs of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change met with representatives from the National Basketball Association, Women’s National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, National Football League, Major League Baseball, and United States Olympic Committee. The meeting focused on steps the leagues are taking to reduce energy consumption, which has environmental and financial benefits. But the organizations also submitted letters earlier in 2013 discussing how climate change would impact their sport. Although professional sports, such as hockey and basketball, are primarily played indoors, younger players often get their first experiences with the game on frozen ponds and outdoor courts. As NHL Deputy Commissioner William Daly said in his letter:
“Hockey’s relationship with the environment is unique. Our sport was born on frozen ponds, where — to this day — players of all ages and skill levels learn to skate. For this magnificent tradition to continue, it is imperative that we recognize the importance of maintaining the environment,” he said in a February 21, 2013 letter to the task force.
Without action, future generations will be unlikely to experience sporting events like we have. Major sports leagues are taking steps to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to protect the future of their sport. While your favorite team may not hear you as you cheer at the TV or shout from the stands, you can support them by taking action to protect our planet.