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Weather policies, such as heat, lightning, or air quality policies, help to identify safe conditions for sport and play. Typically, these include thresholds for what is considered safe, and a pre-determined action at each threshold (e.g., “at X air quality index rating, practices and games must be moved indoors or postponed”). Having a weather policy in place can alleviate decision-making stress and allows coaches and other decision-makers to act quickly when needed.

The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are expected to be among the hottest ever recorded. As athletes prepare for the games, researchers have found that heat acclimatization is the best measure to protect health and performance. This can include 60 to 90 minutes of daily training in the heat for one to two weeks before competition.

As temperatures begin to rise, many Canadians seek to cool off in a nearby body of water. Sadly, drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional death for Canadian children ages one to four. This blog from the Red Cross provides three tips to keep children safe around water this summer, including creating barriers between water hazards and children, supervision, and joining in on the fun.

Did you know that during training and competition, the “ideal” internal body temperature shifts from ~37°C to ~38.5°C? Research shows slightly increasing body temperature through a passive warm-up can increase muscle power by up to 5%, thus improving performance.

In recent years, extreme weather conditions have affected a range of sport events, including tennis’s 2020 Australian Open (heat and smoke), the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan (Typhoon Hagibis), and the 2019 IAAF World Track and Field championships in Qatar (extreme heat). Intentional discussions with board members and staff about potential climate hazards is the first step for sport organizations to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change.

Research with elite women’s wheelchair basketball athletes has shown playing time can negatively impact body temperature regulation, increasing the risk of heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat stroke. Coaches are encouraged to monitor the cooling strategies of athletes with high playing time and encourage all athletes to hydrate during time outs, substitutions, intermissions, and half time.


Highlights


According to the United Nations, climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. In Canada, a national climate emergency was declared by the House of Commons based on the revelation in a 2019 federal climate report that our country is warming roughly twice as fast as others. While infrastructure, livelihoods, and health are top of mind with regard to climate change, all sectors will be impacted.

Sport is not immune to the impacts of climate change. In January 2020, the world watched in horror as Australia’s bushfires raged and athletes at the Australian Open collapsed from heat exhaustion under orange skies, their shoes melting onto the searing court. In Europe, unprecedented heat waves loomed over the 2019 Women’s FIFA World Cup. Here in Canada, forest fires in the west have compromised air quality, keeping many athletes indoors. And of course, winter is getting shorter and the amount of snow has been diminishing since the mid-twentieth century. Climate change isn’t going away; it’s only getting worse. 

The purpose of this article is to introduce climate change as an important consideration for strategic sport management for the future. The first section discusses the risks, and how sports organizations can prepare and adapt to climate change to minimize losses and disruptions. In the second section, the Sport for Climate Action Framework is introduced as a tool to orient thinking around mitigating climate change through climate action and advocacy.

Coping with climate change

Vulnerability to climate change is the degree to which an entity—such as a person, an organization, a building, or a community—is at risk of experiencing negative outcomes from climate change, such as warmer weather, droughts, fires, floods, and storms (IPCC, 2018).

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR, 2004) provides a framework to assess vulnerability based on three key factors:

Some sports are more vulnerable to climate change than others. Outdoor sports and those heavily reliant on natural resources are most at risk of experiencing setbacks due to climate change. This includes sports such as swimming or indoor hockey for their heavy reliance on water. Winter sports are on particularly thin ice (pun intended). For example, research from the University of Waterloo suggests all ski resorts in Ontario and some in Quebec could be faced with winters too short to remain economically viable within 50-60 years if current emissions trends are not curbed (Scott, Steiger, Knowles & Young, 2015). Likewise, research on outdoor skating in Toronto revealed that the number of skateable days has fallen by 25% since the late 1950s (Malik, McLeman, Robertson & Lawrence, 2020) and is projected to fall another 33% by the year 2090 (Robertson, McLeman & Lawrence, 2015).

For summer sports, heat waves and air quality are the key challenges (more on that below). While somewhat insulated, indoor sports can also be vulnerable to climate change. For example, supply chains can be compromised or slowed; travel to-and-from practices and games can be impacted; and poor air quality can seep into indoor areas, rendering them unsafe.

Identifying the risks

The first and most important step in adapting to climate change is to identify and learn about the potential hazards. This process should be intentional and ongoing, starting at the top. Climate hazards should be regularly discussed by the board of directors and staff should be encouraged to read up about what is currently happening (heat waves, storms, wildfires, etc.) and what will likely change in future due to climate change. Together, an informed leadership and staff team can engage in meaningful climate adaptation efforts. Many free resources exist to support this type of fact-finding and future thinking: perusing the Climate Atlas of Canada is a good place to start.

Once the climate hazards that may affect your sport have been identified, organizations can take action to proactively increase adaptive capacity.

Opportunities to adapt

Sport leaders cannot control climate change, but they can control organizations’ adaptive capacity. The good news is that most adaptive measures are relatively simple and inexpensive. Start with the soft infrastructure items (e.g., writing new policies, building awareness about climate risks among staff), and work your way up to the costlier ‘hard’ infrastructure development (e.g., infrastructural upgrades).

Developing weather policies

Weather policies, such as heat policies, lightning policies, and air quality policies, codify safe conditions of play. Typically, these include thresholds for what is considered safe, and a pre-determined action at each threshold. The specifics of these policies will differ based on the sport and available facilities. For instance, at X temperature, an extra water break is added, or at X air quality index rating, practices and games must be moved indoors or postponed. Table 1 offers the Korey Stringer Institute’s latest heat-related guidance for outdoor sports. Already, most sport organizations in Canada have a lightning policy that calls for delaying play when lightning strikes nearby.

Weather policies allow coaches and other decision-makers to act quickly when necessary, alleviating any on-the-spot stress of decision-making or deciding on a best course of action. If the polices are already there, the adaptations can be quick when the hazards arise.

Table 1: Suggested heat policy guidelines for football and outdoor sports (Korey Stringer Institute, 2018).

Notes: The categories are based on geographical regions in the United States (Grundstein et al. 2015). Most of Canada falls into Category 1, with a few small pockets in Southern Ontario in Category 2. The original version of this table was written in Fahrenheit; conversion to Celsius was done by the author. WBGT represents the WetBulb Globe Temperature.

The sport of soccer is ahead of the curve on this: Major League Soccer is the only major sport league to have a heat policy. In Canada, Alberta Soccer has an air quality policy which requires officials and coaches to reduce the intensity of play, reduce the duration of practices, provide more rest breaks, or reschedule altogether, depending on the level of pollution in the air.

Strategic partnerships

Space-sharing partnerships can provide organizations with access to alternative facilities to reduce the impact of inclement weather. During focus groups I conducted with Australian and British sport leaders in the fall of 2020, a few possible suggestions emerged. For example, a tennis club manager proposed partnering with a local basketball club to share space so tennis players could use the gym to do an indoor workout when weather conditions were poor, and basketball players could get outside to cross-train or use the courts for group workouts.

Resource- and information-sharing partnerships are another option for adaptation. For example, sport organizations could co-invest in weather radar technologies that would provide managers and coaches more information than what’s available on the weather channel. Alternatively, sport organizations could share the costs of a consultation with a climate expert or sport scientist to help develop weather policies.

There are also several groups across the country that support sport leaders in understanding and responding to climate change. Most notably, the Canadian alliance of signatories to the Sport for Climate Action Framework support regular meetings and best-practice sharing amongst organizations such as the Canada Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee, the World Masters Athletics event, and others. The alliance also convenes researchers working in the climate and sport space to help guide sustainability strategies and climate adaptation efforts. Community, provincial/territorial and national sport organizations can also leverage their positions as influencers and information clearinghouses to distribute best-practice guidance.

Follow municipal leadership

Most municipalities across Canada, from Victoria to Toronto to St. John’s, have a climate adaptation plan that outlines the steps cities are taking now to prevent climate problems in future. These include, for example, adding bike lanes, electrifying public transit, sourcing green energy, and preparing storm drains for heavier rainfall. Those municipalities that do not have a plan default to their provincial/territorial plans. These plans are often complemented by funding and subsidy opportunities. For example, Montreal is committed to increasing green space and sun shade, so Montreal-based sport organizations might apply for municipal funding to add shading (e.g. trees, partially-covered shelters) to their outdoor fields as a sun and heat-safety strategy.

Build in flexibility for multi-use spaces

In the face of climate change, creativity and flexibility will be paramount. Be ready to pivot from outdoor training sessions to indoor training sessions, saving time and headaches when the weather does not cooperate. If you are a winter sport, or a sport with stricter climate demands, develop your facility’s summer activities. Ski resorts across the country are leading innovation in this area, but more can be done. Turn outdoor arena space into a summer ball hockey facility, or promote downhill ski resorts as trail running and hiking destinations.

Infrastructure and equipment upgrades

Air handlers and air purifying systems can keep wildfire smoke in the building to a minimum, but they are expensive. Adding shaded areas to an outdoor sports facility (from roofs on baseball dugouts to new trees along the edges of fields) can go a long way in protecting athletes and spectators from heat-related illnesses. Adding natural ditches and water drainage on the site can alleviate the risks of flooding. In the most extreme case, enclosing an outdoor facility can provide for climate-controlled conditions indoors and limits exposure to the elements.

The Sport for Climate Action Framework

Coping with climate change is one thing. Mitigating future change is another.

Sport has significant potential to serve as a vehicle for climate action. Many reputable organizations agree (the United Nations, the Obama Administration, the International Olympic Committee). This can be done in two ways: by reducing the environmental footprint of the sport sector, and by increasing the sector’s “brainprint”—the amount of attention and awareness the sector draws to climate issues and sustainability.

These two overarching goals are well represented in the Sport for Climate Action Framework, the UN’s latest effort to drive climate action in sport. The Framework includes five principles to guide this effort:

Principle 1: Undertaking systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility

A systematic effort to promote greater environmental responsibility must infiltrate every level of the organization from the c-suite to the volunteers. Complement aspirational long-term goals (e.g., Seattle Kraken’s climate pledge arena is aiming for carbon neutrality; so is the Paris 2024 Olympics) with short-term, actionable goals that can provide early wins (e.g., reducing paper use, implementing recycling and composting programs). In the same way sports organizations envision the ‘Road to Rio’ or to another major event, with several small but important steps on route to a bigger goal, a ‘Road to Zero’ can be envisioned.

Principle 2: Reduce overall climate impact

The biggest challenge to reduce the overall climate impact of the sport sector is reducing emissions associated with travel to-and-from practices, games, and competitions. Travel represents upwards of 80% of overall emissions in sport, at every level from grassroots clubs to the elite professional leagues (Dolf & Teehan, 2015; Dolf, 2017; Wesström, 2016). Research suggests active sport participants have an average annual carbon footprint of 844 kg of carbon dioxide-equivalent emission (Wicker, 2019). These emissions can be addressed by encouraging athlete and participants to take public transit or cycle, or by changing competition schedules to limit long-distance travel (e.g., by holding the round-robin rounds of provincial and national competitions regionally, and having only the top four teams travel for the semi-finals and finals). Table 2 provides strategies for sport facilities to reduce their climate impact.

Table 2: Menu of Opportunities to Reduce Overall Carbon Footprint

Principle 3: Educate for climate action

Publicly declare your organization or team’s commitment to climate action and environmental stewardship. Explain what actions are being taken to reduce the organization’s footprint, and the goals for future action. Invite participants and fans to be part of the greening process by sharing regular updates and identifying ways for them to support the process. For example, the Banff Marathon, dubbed the “World’s Greenest Marathon,” has a webpage dedicated to sharing their sustainability efforts, and showcases their efforts at the event.  Scotiabank Arena in Toronto has a similar page on their website, describing their strategies to reduce the facility’s environmental footprint.

Principle 4: Promoting sustainable and responsible consumption

This principle is linked to education and reducing overall impact. Consumption by sport organizations includes all procurement, sourcing, and staffing. Decision-makers can consider the following hierarchy of sustainable sourcing practices (from most to least effective):

Consumption by sport participants and spectators includes the way they engage with and consume your product. Make it easy for them to be sustainable in their sport participation (e.g., go all-digital with communications and forms) and invite them to share their at-home sustainable practices with the team or group!

Principle 5: Advocate for climate action through communication

This is related to climate education but demands one extra step: advocacy. It is not enough to wish and hope for a better planet; we all have a role to play in stepping up and speaking out to advocate for a healthy and safe environment. One tactic for climate advocacy is to use the power of athletes as communicators to liaise with spectators and participants. Sport organizations can align with non-profit organizations such as Protect Our Winter Canada, EcoAthletes, Players for the Planet, and Champions for the Earth to access training and resources to educate athletes, and leverage athletes’ platforms for climate advocacy.

Conclusion

In sport, we are accustomed to chasing continued improvement—and we can apply the same mentality to sustainability. The key here is not to get overwhelmed by everything you could do, and instead focus on what you can activate right now, one project at a time. Combined, these efforts will ensure safe and fun sporting opportunities well into the future.

The growth of competitive virtual cycling could be a great equalizer. Gone are the days when North American athletes are required to head to Europe for the highest levels of competition. Virtual cycling also reduces the complexities of event hosting relating to local officiating capacity, road closures, and inclement weather.

The risk of slipping or falling increases during the winter months with icy weather. From Brock University’s Health, Safety and Wellness team, tips to help you avoid a fall this season include being cautious when getting in and out of a vehicle, avoiding texting and walking, and wearing appropriate winter footwear.

In December 2019, the Canada Games Council (CGC) signed on to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework and is now developing a new sustainability strategy. To better understand how climate change is impacting Canadian athletes, CGC reached out to two former Canada Games participants, pro snowboarder Craig McMorris and Olympic steeplechaser Geneviève Lalonde. From receding glaciers to offsetting carbon footprints, Craig and Geneviève share their firsthand experiences with sport and climate change. To learn more about Craig and Geneviève’s backgrounds follow this link.

CGC: Why is the climate action movement important to you?   

Craig McMorris: The climate change movement is important to me because I spend my life outside – and always will – because my life is inherently connected to nature. I feel as though the least I can do is be a part of the climate action movement to help protect such an integral part of my life. Protecting the places, you love from climate change is a no-brainer, but we need to work together to achieve more than any of us can as individuals. 

Genevieve Lalonde: It is important to me because I want everyone to have the same opportunities to be able to see the world that I do. The beauty of the northern lights and the ocean tides, the vastness of the old growth forests – these are experiences that only nature can produce. I think humans need to better appreciate the spaces where we live and understand the natural processes that allow us to see the beautiful sun rise every day.

CGC: Have you seen any impacts from climate change at your favourite spots?

Craig: A lot of people in the winter sport world are seeing the impacts of climate change in the places that we snowboard and ski. For example, Whistler Blackcomb recently removed the T-bar on Horstman Glacier due to years of dwindling snowpack. Seeing first-hand the glacier recession on Blackcomb mountain makes the impacts of warming temperatures very real.     

garbage in ocean. pollution

Genevieve: Ocean landscapes are also seeing major changes. Local beaches are being closed because of pollution; increasing temperatures and sea level rise are challenging the trails along the seaside; and ocean acidity is playing a huge role in the degradation of marine life and habitats. When I can make my way down to the ocean these days, I often get a salty breeze combined with a whiff of petrol, or the smell of rotting garbage on the beach. It is really not as pleasant as it used to be. However, it reminds me that there is so much work for us to do to help our planet.

CGC: Your status as professional athletes has you travelling around the world – does the travel concern you in terms of contributing to climate change?

Craig: My first-hand experience with the negative effects of climate change does create concerns for me about the travel associated with my profession. However, I recognize that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the travel and exposure. As an ambassador of Protect our Winters, I make a point to use the platform I’ve garnered from snowboarding to try and educate and inform people on climate change and its impacts. Individuals have different options when it comes to contributing to climate action. I try to make up for the travel in other aspects of my life and through my public environmental activism.

Geneviève: As an athlete, demands are higher than ever for us to travel abroad to compete. Air transportation produces very high levels of CO2 and is a significant factor of global warming. Each time I step on a plane I recognize what I am doing to the planet and my heart sinks, because I know the impacts of my actions. It is conflicting to be so passionate about the environment and sport at the same time, when some days they work very well together and others they are at odds.

CGC: Geneviève, have you made any changes to your life or routines to help lessen your carbon footprint?

Photo courtesy of Geneviève Lalonde

Geneviève: It has been a fun challenge to see what we can do as athletes to lessen our carbon footprint. When I am at home, it is easy. We shop locally, and support local businesses; we live simply without consuming too many goods; we find alternate ways of doing things that require less energy; and we try to mix up our meals so we get a balanced diet of locally sourced protein.                     

However, when you are abroad, there are fewer options. Often water quality is not what it is in Canada so we need to rely on outsourced water supplies. In some countries, to avoid digestive upsets, we need to import our food and bring or buy food preparation equipment. I do my best to travel with the essentials so I don’t need to purchase all of the necessities and leave them behind, and we bring reusable Tupperware with us everywhere we go.

CGC: Craig, can you tell us more about your role as an ambassador for Protect our Winters?

Craig: Protect our Winters (POW) was started by longtime big mountain snowboarder, Jeremy Jones, to unite professional athletes, outdoor enthusiasts, industry brands and the outdoor community to address climate change. Something I’m really proud of is the snowboarding community’s ability to stand up for positive action on climate change. POW Canada’s vision is for communities and outdoor playgrounds to be healthy, safe, and resilient to a changing climate. My role within this group is to help educate and promote climate action in Canada. I am in no way, shape, or form an expert on climate change, but POW plays a critical role in educating me and the outdoor community and driving climate action in Canada and elsewhere. For example, POW’s recent #NewPath campaign saw over 10,000 people writing to Canadian Ministers to promote a framework for a #NewPath towards a prosperous, green future.    

CGC: What role can sport play in climate action and sustainable development?

Geneviève: Sport is, at its core, a celebration of diversity and excellence. People often look towards athletes, sport events as the pillars in creating gatherings. We need to develop sustainable systems that don’t just play a role in combating climate change but inherently allow us to better understand our natural systems. We need to educate others on how to pursue excellence in and celebrate sport, without sacrificing the environment.

CGC:  The Canada Games Council is developing its long-term sustainability strategy with the goal of driving positive changes. Do you have any thoughts about what sports organizations should be striving to achieve?

Craig: High engagement with sport makes it a significant platform to encourage positive change across society. My thinking is that, if you have the audience and viewership that sports does, why not use it to make the world a better place? Organizations should consider how they can use their platform to inspire positive change, not only in the realm of climate change but also social justice, equality, and diversity, too.

Geneviève: I think the Canada Games Council, and the long-term sustainability strategy, illustrates that the Canada Games is not only thinking of hosting great events to support the development of sport, but how to create an event that builds a lasting legacy. An effective sustainability plan looks at the impacts of an event on the host community and how it can plant the seeds for a more ecological and resilient event in the future. I truly believe that there are ways for sports events to help develop communities and their environments for the better, and I think that is what sports organizations should be striving to achieve.

Read more about the Canada Games Council and the Sport for Climate Action Framework here.