3 UK Sports Slide-Tackling the Climate Crisis

Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash

Climate change is having different impacts in different parts of the world. While a lot has been reported on it, few give attention to the specific societal changes occurring because of the climate crisis.

In the United Kingdom, for instance, there is evidence indicating it is growing warmer and wetter. Climate change has also led to a shift in a significant part of the UK’s cultural identity: its sport. During the last 20–30 years, the United Kingdom’s beloved pastimes have been in danger, with a rise in cancelled cricket matches, flooded football grounds, and collapsing golf courses. But that’s not to say clubs, leagues, and athletes are standing around twiddling their thumbs.

Understanding the Facts

Sport is a vital part of the United Kingdom’s culture. The success and misfortune of sporting events like the 2019 Cricket World Cup, where Ben Stokes led England to victory, and the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final, which saw two English football teams compete for the European title, are among the many woven into the country’s identity.

Not to mention the United Kingdom has some of the world’s most iconic fields, stadiums, and golf courses, with many of the latter located on the coastline in Scotland. Unfortunately, the country’s coastline is at risk of rising sea levels and storm surges.

Golf

Rising sea levels are underway in the United Kingdom, and research concludes that they have increased by an average of 15–20 cm around the country since 1900. With rising sea levels (and increased rainfall and coastal erosion), golf in the United Kingdom faces several challenges. One of which is how courses have to be closed more often and for more extended periods. In 2016/17, for instance, the years “saw as much as 20% less playing time at courses across the Greater Glasgow area than 2006/2007.”

“Our playing season is decreasing in time…I’m frightened for the future of my home club and many like it” — Andrew Murray, English golfer and former European Open champion.

Cricket

Cricket is in a similar position to golf. A 2018 report by the Climate Coalition found that “in international cricket, 27% of England’s home One Day Internationals since 2000 have been played with reduced overs because of rain disruptions.” In recent years, Cardiff-based Glamorgan Cricket Club has experienced the worst of the increase in rainfall, losing over 1300 hours of cricket since 2000.

Football

In 1968, Arthur Hopcraft declared that “football has more significance in the national character than the theatre” in England. While that may be true, the sport is not immune to climate change.

A prominent example of this is the 2015/16 season, which saw 25 Football League fixtures cancelled because of extreme weather events. That season, Carlisle United FC had to relocate from its home ground for nearly 50 days because of flooding caused by Storm Desmond (climate change made this storm 59% more likely.)

More Rain, More Sun

Increased rainfall has posed challenges, but the rise in temperatures in the United Kingdom is also causing difficulties.

In 2019, Europe had two heatwaves, with the first occurring in June. Conditions became worse in July when an omega blocker caused a second heatwave, carrying over into August in the United Kingdom. (An omega blocker is a high-pressure pattern that allows a mass of hot air to come up from the Iberian Peninsula and Northern Africa.)

England felt the impact. High temperatures in cities like London continued into August; this influenced Premier League football so significantly that the league had to implement the water break rule (three-minute pauses for water in the 30th and 75th minute). This rule did not exist until 2014 when FIFA introduced it during the 2014 Men’s World Cup in Brazil due to similar conditions.

Rising Up to the Challenge

In 2012, Sabine Roeser found that the harder it is for people to visualize threats like climate change, the less involved they are. Even worse: when there is a lack of urgency to achieve climate justice, it’s often due to a lack of personal and emotional involvement.

That’s not the case in the United Kingdom. Many celebrate the active responses to climate change sporting organizations in the UK have put into place, and such action likely stems from the country’s overwhelming passion for its pastimes.

Golf

The reality of the crisis affecting golf in the United Kingdom has led to various new sustainability initiatives. One example is The Royal and Ancient Golf Club’s Green Links program. The Green Links program has venues meeting criteria “across the categories of nature, water, energy, supply chain, pollution control, and community.”

Cricket

Cricketers have also taken the climate change pledge, with Glamorgan Cricket Club implementing measures to improve sustainability. Since 2013, the club has attained a 10–15% reduction in electricity use.

Marylebone Cricket Club has also introduced sustainability measures, such as using electric buggies, which eliminates pollution. Also, the club brings unused edible food to those in surrounding communities. By creating a narrative, it shows these communities that there are things they can do together to tackle climate change.

Football

After the floods caused by Storm Desmond disrupted the 2015/16 season, the Football Association (FA), the Premier League, and Sport England responded by making £750,000 available to support the affected clubs. The FA also promised to spend £48 million to help pitches adapt to harsher weather conditions.

Dozens of individual football clubs are also doing their part.

Among the top teams in the Premier League is Manchester City, which won the Gold Standard Award from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for transforming “more than 30 hectares of post-industrial wasteland into a world-class facility at the heart of the community.”

Manchester United is also executing various sustainability practices at Old Trafford. The methods introduced include harvesting and recycling rainwater to preserve the pitch and recycling and reuse programs.

Tottenham Hotspur and Forest Green Rover are two more examples of UK football clubs looking to ease the climate crisis. The latter provides charging points outside its stadium in Nailsworth, England, to promote electric vehicle use. Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur participated in Britain’s 10:10 campaign in 2010, which saw the club make calculated decisions regarding energy use and waste disposal so the country could cut 10% of its carbon emissions.

Then, in 2018, Tottenham announced plans to combat plastic pollution. On April 3, 2019, the club’s new stadium opened, and Tottenham eliminated all use of plastic straws, cutlery, and stirrers within its grounds.

Athlete Activism

Clubs in the United Kingdom have a powerful reach online, and many players act as role models to the youth. That was made evident in 2020. But some athletes had already taken on such a role, well before a virulent pandemic rolled into town.

Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane, for instance, is a role model, particularly for those in the Haringey borough. In 2018, following the Premier League’s partnership with Sky Ocean Rescue — the two behemoths joined forces to inspire people to reduce their single-use plastic intake — Kane partnered with Sky to design reusable water bottles.

“I hope that one person’s actions, in choosing not to use a single-use bottle, can inspire another and another to pass on plastic” — Harry Kane

No, We’re Not Doomed

Between generating active responses like reducing carbon emissions and recycling rainwater to maintain pitches, clubs in the United Kingdom are excellent examples of rising to the challenge of climate change.

But now we need to see this drive for sustainability step up a level. It is time for the world to follow the lead of clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Why? Because if climate change can hurt our sports, then wherever we look, we will discover similar stories.

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Caroline Winston

Caroline Winston

Inspired, thought-provoking journalism. A hub for business, technology, sport, culture, and everything in-between.

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