Sustainability And Sport 2023: A Year In Review – Part One
2023 is all but wrapped up, so it’s a great time to reflect on what has happened this year during this time between Christmas and New Year; in Norway they call it romjul, in Germany it’s zwischen den jahren and in Britain it’s twixmas or crimbo limbo.
This year in review will be split into two parts; this article will serve to remind us of the extreme weather impacts on sport this year and happenings that garnered the most media attention. Tomorrow’s article will cover the progress of the industry in the past 12 months, and the research, reports and surveys released that have supported this progress.
It’s Getting Hot In Here
Heat impacts on major sports tournaments were once again a big theme for 2023. Happening across the entire year in both summer and winter sports, in the northern and southern hemisphere.
The Australian Open in January and the US Open in September, both during the region’s respective summers, are often cited because of extreme heat impacts on players and spectators, and this year was no different. In Melbourne, play was stopped on the outdoor courts due to heat and torrential rain. In Flushing Meadows, player Daniil Medvedev once again spoke out about the conditions, saying ‘one player is going to die’ because of the heat.
Changing weather patterns also continued to impact sport this year. We were exasperated by scenes in Luchon Superbagnère, France back in 2020, and in January 2023 we once again saw insane scenes of a ski resort ‘ferrying snow to the slopes via helicopter’ to service its patrons after a mild winter, this time in Gstaad, Switzerland.
An unusual spring heat wave (32C/90F) hit the Sydney Marathon in October and 26 runners were hospitalised. In November, Brazil recorded it’s hottest ever temperatures of 44.8C/112.6F, leading to many warnings for those participating in sport.
Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics, has spoken previously about having to change competition calendars and the Budapest Championships in August gave rise to that narrative again. Temperatures reached 36C/98F and led to schedule changes after the Government warned people to avoid physical exertion between 11am and 5pm.
As well as these examples of timing changes for sport, extreme weather conditions in 2023 led to major events being cancelled or postponed. In May, the Formula 1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, Italy, was cancelled due to devastating flooding in the region.
In June an array of sports events in the United States were cancelled or postponed due to air quality alerts caused by Canadian wildfire smoke drifting south. Many outdoor sports fixtures were affected in the likes of New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington and Missouri, but even indoor sports didn’t escape. A WNBA game in Brooklyn between the Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty was also postponed, with the decision being made to ‘protect the health and safety of our fans, teams and community.’
Not every instance of extreme weather can be attributable to climate change, but experts cite the increase in likelihood and severity of extreme weather events in a changing climate. World Weather Attribution reported that climate change more than doubled the likelihood of extreme fire weather conditions in Eastern Canada that lead to the wildfires.
Sit Up and Pay Attention
Major sports tournaments were increasingly targeted by climate activists throughout 2023. The British-based group, Just Stop Oil, once again took their orange-hued protests to sports.
Firstly to the snooker World Championships in April. Who can forget the mobilisation of a vacuum cleaner in getting the powder off the snooker table and player-turned-pundit Stephen Hendry’s questionable lament ‘You just hope the cloth can be recovered’. Rugby Union came next in May, with disruption of the Twickenham-based final between Saracens and Sale; two protestors were arrested. Then cricket, with the second ashes test at Lord’s in June being targeted with the now infamous orange powder and England wicketkeeper, Jonny Bairstow, physically removing a protester. To round things off; tennis. A gentleman and lady in their 60s entered Court 18 during a match at Wimbledon in July and threw orange confetti and jigsaw pieces.
In other parts of the globe, the German group Letzte Generation mimicked Just Stop Oil’s tactic by spilling orange paint across the road at the 2023 Berlin Marathon. Four activists from Extinction Rebellion in the United States disrupted Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova’s semi-final match at the US Open by standing and shouting ‘no tennis on a dead planet’, with one gluing his bare feet to the concrete. Post-match Coco Gauff reacted that she’d prefer it didn’t happen during her match, but ‘if that’s what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can’t really get upset at it.’
These protests were largely aimed at Government inaction on the climate crisis, but we also saw campaigns that targeted sports competitions and their fossil fuel partners. Celebrities came out in force to call for Wimbledon to end its new sponsorship deal with Barclays over the bank’s support for fossil fuel projects. Greenpeace France led probably one of the most affecting campaigns against a tournament and their oil major sponsor at Rugby World Cup 2023 and its sponsor, TotalEnergies. Scenes of a scale model of a stadium and it’s players and spectators being flooded with oil is surely one of the most memorable images of the year.
Coco Gauff’s response to activism has already been mentioned, but we saw athletes take action under their own steam this year also. US-based non-profit EcoAthletes reported a 48% increase in athletes joining its global roster to use their platform to combat the climate crisis. British long distance runner Innes Fitzgerald received a lot of global attention for her refusal to fly from England to Australia for the World Cross Country Championships in January, due to her concern about the climate crisis. Denmark’s Sofie Junge Pedersen led forty four Women’s World Cup 2023 players to take action by offsetting their flights to Australia and New Zealand for the competition, in what has been cited as the largest player-led action on climate in football. These actions sparked conversations, numerous headlines and a clutch of Awards for both athletes this year.
In 2023 sports have continued to both be increasingly impacted by the climate crisis and used by athletes and protestors as a way to raise awareness. This article might feel a bit bleak, but don’t worry, how have sports organisations and the wider community have risen to the challenge will be covered tomorrow in Part 2 of Sustainability And Sport 2023: A Year In Review.