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Playing the climate game.

The science driving our sporting future.

Jun 9, 2020


Words: Esther Lloyd
Images: Esther Lloyd

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The grass is gone. Instead, smart, sport-specific synthetic surfaces make the field. The new ‘tech turf’ is housed inside a large, storm-proof multipurpose dome. For local sports, this is the new normal.

In the not-too-distant-future, our sports matches, teams and spectators will flock to architectural masterpieces built from recycled and sustainable materials with low-carbon footprints. These ‘all-weather-play’ complexes boast climate-controlled temperature, humidity and air filtration systems. Meanwhile, essential equipment and operations are all located above flood levels so that events are not interrupted during the formerly extreme weather events.

The latest tech means that Gippsland’s sporting grounds are now energy-efficient, as entire complexes are powered by renewable energy and battery storage. Keen sporting fans can even subscribe to donate their excess household solar energy to their favourite team’s matches, while during periods of high demand the complex itself acts as a community battery to support the surrounding town.

If this all sounds a bit excessive, you’d be right. But sometimes extreme measures are required for extreme situations — which is where we are finding ourselves with the current climate change impacts and projections for Gippsland and the globe.

We are the sunburnt country — the world’s driest inhabited continent — yet we are experiencing even longer dry periods, record average temperatures, heatwaves, less snow, more ocean inundation, and unpredictable, intense localised storm events.

These conditions are already challenging our sporting grounds, facilities, athletes, officials, spectators and volunteers. From our backyard matches to our elite professional tournaments overseas, there are cancelled events due to flooding or debilitating high temperatures, impact injuries from dried and cracked playing surfaces, and uncertain policies literally risking players’ lives. Climate impacts are here to stay as our traditional summer sports become our new winter sports, and our former winter sports melt into history.

For the first time, the 2022 World Cup will be run in (northern hemisphere) winter, because even pioneering stadium cooling technology could not protect people from the increasing temperatures expected in Qatar. Similar concerns for the Tokyo Olympics (before COVID-19) have organisers discussing a range of protective measures, including spraying roads with heat-blocking nano-mists to allow races to proceed.

Yet, who would we be without our beloved sport? We love to play them — it’s estimated that about 80 per cent of people 15 years and older engage in sporting activities — and we want to watch them too, with over 7.5 million Australians attending at least one sporting event per year.

For our rural communities, sports can be even more important as it assists in developing a shared sense of identity and place through building individual and community connections. However, people are retiring from the sports they love, as they feel that they cannot compete in increasing heat and more frequent extreme weather conditions, and that they’d be letting teams down if they tried.

In response to climate change impacts on our sporting life, various local government, community, sporting, environmental and renewable energy organisations are coming together to help our communities and grassroots sporting organisations access and understand innovative local opportunities. A full day of free workshops and an energy marketplace are being hosted in Sale on April 16 and will showcase local projects to inspire community renewable energy financing, and offer the chance to learn from various speakers about climate impacts occurring across Gippsland. More information can be found at www.bit.ly/SmartFutureSeries.

Our future sustainability across a wide spectrum of social, environmental and economic spheres is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. Yet sport has the unique power of bringing us together while inspiring us to challenge ourselves. It is also a great place to adopt the science and technology innovations that will propel us into a new future.

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