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Australian Open 2020 starts amidst bushfire smoke, climate crisis shadowing other sporting events as well

This is not the first time that soaring temperature is a matter of worry for the first Tennis Grand Slam of the year. But this time temperature along with bushfire smoke is an added worry for the players in Australian Open 2020. Hopefully the air quality in Melbourne will improve in the coming weekend. But climate crisis is a major concern for all outdoor sports especially the winter sports.

Australia and its neighborhood have been ravaged with the country’s worst bushfire, taking away human and a billion animal lives. Several towns were engulfed in smoke and people are left homeless.

Amidst Melbourne’s air quality reaching a ‘very unhealthy’ level, the organizers decided not to delay the Australian Open 2020 schedule. The qualifying rounds began from 14th January followed by the main event from 20th January.

Australian Open director Craig Tiley defended the organisers’ decision and said, “As always, the health and safety of our players, along with our staff and our fans, is a priority, and we’ve committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure this throughout the tournament. There will be meteorological and air quality experts onsite to analyse all available live data and assess in real-time the air quality at Melbourne Park”.

Dalila Jakupovic falls sick on the court

Thus Australian Open 2020 dates came along but during the qualifying rounds winds blew smoke from the fires in east Victoria and New South Wales into the city dropping the air quality to the worst. Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia suffered from coughing fit that forced her to retire from her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Vögele. The match of Maria Sharapova and Laura Siegemund was called off after officials declared that the smoke was turning to be dangerous. Even, former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard also called several medical time-outs in her opening match against China’s Xiaodi You.

The main draws have started and players are hopeful that the condition will improve in the coming fortnight. Australian Open has always faced the heat wrath with high temperature and uncomfortable conditions for the players. It is a myth that in 1993 when Stefan Edberg and Jim Courier fought their final and came to the press room, there was a pungent smell all over. It was later discovered that the soles of their shoed melted on the court resulting the bad smell.

As years passed the tournament organisers covered the main three arena of the Open with retractable roofs, increased shades for the spectators, made the hardcourt surface less sticky and scheduled more night matches. Thus the first Grand Slam of the Tennis circuit in Australia adapted itself to the weather condition with players having in their mind the conditions in which they have to play.

But this year’s ‘Australia bushfire tragedy’ has ripped apart all security measures and forced the organisers to think differently. Tennis Australia has decided to conduct matches in the eight indoor courts and the three stadiums with retractable roofs if conditions deteriorate. A statement issued by the authority states, “We have three roofed-stadiums and eight indoor courts at Melbourne Park. In the unlikely case of extreme smoke conditions, the roofs will be closed on the three stadium courts and play will continue in their air-conditioned and air-filtered environment.”

Sport In General Facing Climate Wrath

The bushfire danger at the Australian Open 2020 is not the only case when sport like Tennis is facing climate crisis that is engulfing the globe. With global warming looming large the most affected are the winter sports.  

The season for winter sports has become shorter giving the players lesser opportunities to practice and compete. The melting of glaciers is giving hard time for sportsmen who at a certain time are dependent on glaciers for outdoor summer training.

In 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia players have to experience a temperature of around 17 degrees Celsius which was quite inaccurate for winter sports. Ice Hockey in Canada is highly affected with a 20% decrease in outdoor Hockey activity in recent years. The US Ski season is projected to be cut in half by 2050.

Montrose Links Golf Course

In Scotland, coastal erosion has brought the North Sea closer to the holes of the world-famous Montrose Links Golf Course. If situation does not change then the administrators have to think of moving the course inland, which means losing a slice of golfing history.

Apart from winters being affected, summers are also increasingly having much higher temperature than usual in several countries. Thus general outdoor sporting activities and events are also being hit by the climate catastrophe.

In January 2019, England’s cricket captain Joe Root was sent to hospital with exhaustion and dehydration during a match in Australia when temperature rose to 42 degree Celcius. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is scheduled during the summer in Japan but the organisers were not thoughtful enough to decide on some other dates. Though they did not accept their error till now, but they silently acknowledged the fact by relocating the Marathon event from Tokyo to much-cooler Sapporo.

The Football World Cup 2020 has been awarded to Qatar– the middle-east Asian country where summer temperature rises to 50 degree Celcius. Football requires players to run continually for 90 minutes, this heat can pose dangerous health issues. Thus, the FIFA Executive Committee decided to move the event from its usual June to July timeframe to late November and December.

It is the need of this hour that the organisers think twice before scheduling a sporting event; it is also the responsibility of the players to use their status and popularity to shed light on climate change. Sport has tremendous reach and has the power to drive more urgency for action on climate change.

About Poulomi Kundu

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