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The Impact of Climate Change on Sports


Earth’s climate changes have led to increasingly more drastic impacts on the environment, including animal and plant life endangerment, dying glaciers and icebergs and inconsistent weather patterns. These, in turn, have caused subversive disruptions to the sports industry in recent years. 

The impact of climate change on sports is devastating because of the inability to prepare for weather changes or natural disasters that affect the industry and athletes. For instance, extreme heat has caused medical issues for many athletes who fall ill due to exertional heat illnesses, heat rash, heat enema or muscle cramps. A 2014 study by the National Library of Medicine revealed that activity modifications were needed in hotter climates to ensure safe exercise conditions for athletes, as EHIs increased significantly in hotter or humid conditions, and recommended that athletic teams and organizations work to adapt their activities to changing weather conditions to protect athletes. 

In addition to extreme heat, pollution and poor air quality harm athletes’ lungs and blood quality, making them more vulnerable to illness. Other times, a lack of snow caused by global warming has undermined snow-reliant sports. Sports will inevitably continue to be impacted by these events as climate change worsens.

The future of sports is further complicated by the industry’s role in furthering climate change issues. Athletic facilities, equipment and travel are just a few of the several high-carbon emitting processes that the industry makes use of. When these necessities are utilized on a larger scale, such as for international tournaments or the Olympics, they are major contributors to climate change concerns. As a result, sustainability within these processes is essential to reducing the impact of athletics in creating carbon emissions.

While climate change is not entirely irreversible, athletes and athletic organizations are finding ways to mitigate the impacts. Several well-known athletes also act as climate activists promoting sustainability before it is too late, such as Jacquie Pierri, a hockey player for the European Women’s Hockey League. 

Said Pierri, who has also completed a master’s degree in sustainable energy systems, in a 2023 interview with SportsPro Media, “Then we also have to consider that, as ice hockey players, our carbon footprint is quite high. It’s energy-intensive to refrigerate the ice. It’s a lot of travel. So on one end, we’re being very much impacted, but we’re also being pushed out of the natural world into a higher impact version of the sport.”

Athletic facilities have also begun opting for more sustainable, carbon-neutral practices to reduce emissions. For example, the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle has been working to become completely carbon-neutral. The arena uses renewable energy sources like solar power to function and collects rainwater to use for the rink’s ice later on. 

Teams can purchase locally sourced food, use recycled water and donate material waste. During sporting events, fans are advised to use alternative methods of transportation such as carpooling, biking, walking or public transportation to avoid extreme pollution. These methodologies, when incorporated globally with an intent to reduce carbon emissions, have the potential to make the sporting industry more practical in the long run. While simultaneously adopting these changes with weather-safety practices that protect athletes, sports can become more sustainable and safe in the wake of global warming. 

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Riya Malik
Riya Malik, Copy Editor

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