Climate crisis threatens future of global sport, says report

The rapidly accelerating climate crisis threatens the future of major sports events around the world, according to a report that also says the global sporting industry is failing to tackle its own emissions.

The study found that in the coming years nearly all sports – from cricket to American football, tennis to athletics, surfing to golf – will face serious disruption from heatwaves, fires, floods and rising sea levels.

It also estimated that globally, sports’ own carbon emissions are equal to that of a medium-sized country, adding that sport administrators and stars had an important role to play in global efforts to tackle climate breakdown.

Andrew Simms, the co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, which published the report, said: “Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow.”

The report found that in the next three decades a quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk of flooding every season, one in three British golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels and the Winter Olympics will be increasingly difficult to stage because of rising temperatures.

It also highlighted how the climate crisis was already having an impact on major sports events. Last year’s Rugby World Cup was hit by a huge typhoon, while this year’s Australian Tennis open was disrupted by toxic smoke from the country’s devastating bush fires.

Commenting on the findings, Rosie Rogers, the head of Green Recovery at Greenpeace, said: “From flooding to sweltering heat, even sport can’t escape the climate emergency. But it’s also clear that the sector is playing a part in fuelling it.”

As it re-emerged from the Covid-19 lockdown the industry had a chance to think about how to do things differently and what a “sporting green recovery” would look like, she said.

“Whether that’s switching planes for trains, ditching single use plastic or cutting fossil fuel sponsorship, sport can show it’s on the winning side as we take the climate crisis head on.”

The study found that of hundreds of governing bodies, only five have a zero carbon pledge, with World Athletics, Formula 1 motor racing and the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which runs Wimbledon, having pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030.

The report’s author, David Goldblatt, said sport should be doing much more.

“Few human practices offer such an extraordinarily large, global, and socially diverse constituency as those playing and following sport. Making a carbon-zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.”

Jens Sejer Andersen, the international director of Play the Game, the global organisation for good governance in sport, said the report underlined the need for the industry to take a lead in the fight against climate breakdown.

“We must be ready to revise the ways we organise our events and tasks … But we won’t stop here. Climate action must be an essential part of sports governance.”

He said the climate crisis would be a central topic at the organisation’s next international conference in 2021.

“We’ll do our best to engage our global network of reporters, sport leaders, athletes and officials in raising their game.”


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