What Impact Will Climate Change Have on the Future of Sports?

We are living in unprecedented times. Last year, COVID-19 shook the sports world to its core. Events were cancelled left and right. Sports seasons were delayed. Punters no longer able to bet on their regular sports turned to table tennis, weather betting, and other unusual activities to pass the time.

Even now, we are dealing with a new wave of COVID cases around the world as the delta variant sweeps through populations. This may leave you wondering how future pandemic spikes will impact sports. But there is something else that not as many people are talking about, and that is how a changing climate might impact the future of sports.

Like COVID, climate change is bringing unprecedented challenges into our everyday lives. In 2021 alone, we had seen record-breaking temperatures around the world along with torrential flooding, raging forest fires, fire tornadoes, and other natural disasters.

In this article, we are going to talk about what climate change may mean for sports. But first, let’s go over some basic facts about climate change so we can put this discussion in context.

What is Climate Change?

“Ya’ll miss me?”

For the purposes of this discussion, “climate change” refers to the gradual, long-term change in the overall climate on this planet.

NASA says, “People who study Earth see that Earth’s climate is getting warmer. Earth’s temperature has gone up about one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years. This may not seem like much. But small changes in Earth’s temperature can have big effects.

Some effects are already happening. Warming of Earth’s climate has caused some snow and ice to melt. The warming also has caused oceans to rise. And it has changed the timing of when certain plants grow.”

Why is Climate Change Happening?

The reason we are seeing climate change is because of the ways our societies are structured and the energy sources we use.

Think back to middle school science class. You might remember a couple pages in your textbook showing you a diagram to illustrate the “greenhouse effect.”

Basically, there are gases in our planet’s atmosphere. Like the glass of a greenhouse, these gasses retain heat. We call this the “greenhouse effect.”

The greenhouse effect is part of a carefully balanced ecology. Without it, so much heat would bleed out into space that life on earth as we know it would not exist.

But here’s the thing – humans keep pumping certain gases into the atmosphere known as “greenhouse gasses.”

NRDC explains, “For most of the past 800,000 years—much longer than human civilization has existed—the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere was between about 200 and 280 parts per million. (In other words, there were 200 to 280 molecules of the gases per million molecules of air.) But in the past century, that concentration has jumped to more than 400 parts per million, driven up by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The higher concentrations of greenhouse gases—and carbon dioxide in particular—is causing extra heat to be trapped and global temperatures to rise.”

What Does Climate Change Mean for Our Planet?

So, what will happen over the next 100 years? That depends largely on human behavior.

The Exploratorium provides some possible predictions. If we reduce C0 2 emissions “very quickly,” the site says that by 2100, the temperature may rise around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. If we go “somewhat quickly,” it will rise by 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit. If we reduce emissions “hardly at all,” the rise will be around 7.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sea levels may rise anywhere between 17 and 29 inches, depending on which route we choose.

Along with this overall rise in temperatures and sea levels, we will see an increase in days of extreme heat.

Whereas there were usually about four such days annually during the 1980s, by the year 2100, there may be around 40.

Some parts of the world will dry out, while others will become dangerously humid.

Weather systems will also become increasingly severe, the heat domes, floods, and fires of 2021 are a preview.

Now, here’s something else you should know. We will not have to wait until 2022 to start seeing increasingly harsh effects of climate change. Many people around the world are already beginning to struggle with inhospitable conditions.

Researchers have identified a 1.5°C “tipping point” for climate change. If there is no slowdown in climate change, we will hit this tipping point as an average between 2030 and 2052.

But the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says we are likely to temporarily hit that tipping point sometime in the next five years.

Even temporary swings across this threshold will result in devastating consequences.

We don’t want to be hippies over here, but here comes the talk about how “we only get one Earth, blah blah blah…”
You know how it goes!

How Does Regular Weather Impact Athletes?

Okay, so now you have a primer on climate change. Let’s get back to talking about what you came here to read about—sports.

Most people do not put a lot of thought into the impact of climate on athletes, but as a sports bettor, this should be a concern to you over the years ahead.

You know instinctively that there is no way that climate change cannot influence the lives of athletes. But to start forming a better understanding of what to expect, we should start by considering the impact that regular weather has on athletic performance and events.

  1. Cancellations and Delays

The first obvious way that weather can impact athletes is by causing postponements and cancellations of athletic events.

Cancellations and delays impact you as a punter directly as well. If you have already placed your wagers and an event is moved to a new location, delayed, or cancelled outright, what happens depends on the rules of your sportsbook.

Sometimes, you might get your money back, and your bet will be cancelled. Other times, the action may stand, and the result of your wager will depend on the outcome of the event when and where it does take place.

  1. Temperature and Humidity

Just from watching sporting events during previous “normal” times, you probably observed that both heat and humidity impact athletic performance as well as health and safety.

Heat takes a toll on the body, making it easy to dehydrate. Some players may experience heat cramps. Heat stroke is also a possibility if things get to be extreme.

When weather is humid, the body is not able to sweat efficiently. This makes it hard to stay cool. So, even temperatures that may not seem “extreme” can become difficult to bear.

It is also worth mentioning that cold temperatures can impact how athletes perform as well. And as with extreme heat, extreme cold can be dangerous.

  1. Rain

If it rains, the ground can become slick. Dirt can turn to mud, and grass can be slippery as well. There may be soft spots or puddles on fields or tracks.

Whether a sport is postponed because of rain or takes place at the appointed time and location depends on which sport it is.

  1. Ice and Snow

As with rain, ice and snow can dramatically alter the character of a field, court, or track.

Once again, some sporting events might take place as usual. Others might be postponed.

There are also winter sports that require snow. But there needs to be just the right amount of snow. If it is excessive or insufficient, that sport might not be able to take place.

  1. Wind

Wind can have a major impact on a wide range of sports. Any sport where a ball will be flying through the air is going to be influenced by gusts of wind. With a sport like golf, the results can be dramatic. Indeed, a player may alter their entire strategy based on the wind.

  1. Fog

If there is fog, a sport might be postponed, or it might take place as usual. Not only can it be harder to perform when vision is obstructed by fog, but there can also sometimes be safety issues.

How Will Climate Change Affect Sports?

Now that we have discussed the general impact that weather can have on athletes, we can talk about how climate change in particular might affect sports in the future.

  1. Climate Events May Make Postponements and Cancellations More Frequent

As we are already experiencing, climate change comes with extreme weather events.

Those events are going to happen more frequently going forward. They will not necessarily be more unpredictable, however—our models for predicting the weather have been improving over time.

Still, since the climate changes ahead are unprecedented, we would not be surprised if those models miss a few things.

The BBC says, “By 2050, it’s estimated that almost one in four English football league grounds can expect flooding every year.”

It is easy to picture where that might lead. If sports authorities do not make major changes to settings for sports, we are going to see many postponements, relocations, and cancellations.

Indeed, perhaps eventually these disruptions will necessitate some type of adjustment. Maybe we will see certain outdoor games moved to indoor venues, for example.

Note that heavy rain or storm conditions are not the only ones that may prompt delays or cancellations.

We are also seeing an increase in forest fires. When a forest fire is raging, the smoke it blows across the land can damage the air quality, making conditions unhealthy for athletes.

Thomas Reuters Foundation News reports, “Fires and poor air quality cancelled two major races, last November and in February, said [runner Clare Gallagher], who lives in Colorado. ‘Megafires are becoming more common. Races are getting cancelled at a much higher rate than in the past,’ Gallagher told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. ‘As a professional runner, it’s crazy. Those were the only two races I had on my calendar in those winter months and it basically knocked my racing schedule to zero.’”

  • How Will This Impact You?

Basically, when you place a wager, you may need to be more concerned in future years about a postponement or cancellation than in the past.

That means it is extra important to be aware of your sportsbooks’ policies on this matter, especially since they could change in the future.

It also seems feasible that some outdoor sports could move indoors part-time or full-time in order to get around this problem (alternately, they could just schedule them in different seasons). Such a large change is probably still quite a few years off, but it is a possibility.

If that happens, you could see quite a few changes in how games play out, which will require you to adjust your strategies going forward.

Even without cancellations, postponements and reschedules will hurt the fan base over time.

  1. Athletes Will Struggle With Extreme Heat

There have already been examples of recent occasions when athletes have had to contend with extreme high temperatures.

The Climate Reality Project says, “Cricket fans saw it on one of the sport’s biggest stages – the Ashes – in January 2018 when England Captain Joe Root was taken to hospital during the fifth Test between England and Australia. The temperature that day reached in the middle of the Sydney Cricket Grounds 57 degrees Celsius: 134 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Another example is the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The Guardian reports, “Temperatures hit 34C in the Japanese capital on Thursday with humidity of nearly 70%. Athletes and sports scientists say the combination of heat and moisture has led to “brutal” conditions that must be avoided at future events.”

34C is 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit. If that were a dry heat, it might not be so bad (though it would still be uncomfortable and dehydrating). But the humidity meant that athletes had a hard time sweating and cooling down their bodies.

Indeed, a few athletes did succumb to heat exhaustion, forcing them to quit before their matches were complete.

Other athletes continued on through the heat, but did so at risk to their lives. Daniil Medvedev, for example, literally talked to the umpire about his concern he could die without medical timeouts.

The Guardian points out a few ways sports could change in response to growing heat, saying, “This could limit the range for endurance sports in terms of geography, season and time of day. Pressure will grow for big events to be moved to cooler seasons, higher latitudes, morning and evenings. Many elite athletes, like many specialist species, will see their habitat shrink.”

The article also describes the impact that the heat had on swimming. Because the water was so warm, long-distance competitions had to take place as early as 6:30 in the morning.

It is true that athletes do participate in specialized training that helps them acclimate to heat. But training can only go so far. The human body simply cannot perform past a certain point.

  • How Will This Impact You?

It will become increasingly important for you when you are planning your bets to check weather predictions for upcoming events.

If the event you are wagering on is further in the future then the forecast goes, you can look up historical climate data for that location and time of year, paying extra close attention to changes that have occurred in recent years.

If you predict that high heat is likely, be aware of the way in which those conditions could physically and psychologically impact athletes.

You might even want to try and research to find out what you can about how individual players have reacted to high heat in the past. That way, you can figure out who is most likely to become fatigued by it and who is most likely to continue to perform relatively close to their norm.

Later down the line, it does seem possible that high heat is one of the many climate changes that could start pushing traditionally outdoor events indoors, or moving them to different times of the year.

  1. More Athletes May be Playing In Or After Rain

While some sporting events are cancelled immediately if there is even a little rain, others tend to continue through it.

Some examples of sports that play through the rain include rugby, horse racing, NFL, and some track and field events.

With heavy rain and flooding becoming more commonplace, events like these may sometimes continue taking place.

They will still likely be cancelled or delayed if conditions are downright unsafe, but if they are merely inconvenient, they will go on as planned.

  • How Will This Impact You?

You should make sure you understand as well as possible how playing through rain or on wet ground can impact participants.

As with heat, you should do research on individual athletes, horses, etc. to see how each of them handle these conditions. You also should check weather forecasts and climate trends so you can make predictions about conditions for upcoming matches and races. Doing that research may give you an edge.

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  1. Winter Sports May Struggle to Survive

Perhaps the most dire impact of climate change for professional sports is for winter sports. If there is not sufficient snow, some winter sports may become impossible to play at all.

Indeed, this issue is so urgent that a group of professional athletes have joined together to form a group called “Protect Our Winters.”

CNN reports, “’Increased temperatures are melting away both my sport and my livelihood,’ professional ski mountaineer and POW representative Caroline Gliech told the US Senate late last year.”

  • How Will This Impact You?

As a punter, you may be facing more than delays and cancellations with your favorite winter sports. Eventually, some of them may no longer even be around to wager on.

  1. Golf Courses are Actually Disappearing.

Then there is the matter of golf courses. As the BBC reports here, some golf courses are expected to start “crumbling into the sea” according to the Climate Coalition.

The BBC continues, “Montrose, one of the five oldest courses in the world, is at risk of being washed away by rising seas and coastal erosion linked to climate change.”

  • How Will This Impact You?

At some point, you may no longer be able to watch golf on your favorite golf courses or wager on it, because those golf courses may no longer exist.

As with winter sports, this would be a terrible loss for everyone.

  1. The Sports Industry Will Have to Adjust to Counteract Climate Change

The sports industry is not just a passive recipient of climate change, it is also an active participant.

Referencing a study, the BBC points out that the industry contributes harmful emissions, and that, “the scale of CO2 is equivalent to a country like Bolivia at the low end but as large as a country like Spain on the high end.”

The site quotes study author David Goldblatt as saying, “Sport may be just big enough to register, in terms of carbon emissions, as a small nation state, or a single megacity, but its own efforts are just a fraction of a percentage point of the world total.”

While a lot of sports authorities have not opted to make a commitment to achieve carbon neutral status, there will be increasing pressure on them to do that over the coming years.

One example of a sport where changes are taking place is Formula 1. The goal is to achieve a carbon neutral state by 2030. That is less than a decade from now, so Formula 1 will need to make rapid changes to accomplish it.

Some of those changes will involve fuel, while others will involve changes to engines and other technologies in the cars. The BBC also says, “F1 plans to offset emissions through a combination of replanting trees and using the engineering know-how in the sport to develop new technologies that can capture carbon from the atmosphere.”

  • How Will This Impact You?

As a punter, you may expect a broad range of changes to various sports you bet on as sports authorities make adjustments to how they operate.

Be on the lookout for changes in scheduling, changes to transportation arrangements for athletes, and modifications to how sports are played or the equipment or technology that are used by participants.

  1. Climate Change Could Result in More Disease-Related Sports Lockdowns

While climate change is one of the biggest concerns of the past couple of years, COVID-19 has been another.

2020 was one of the most frustrating years in history for athletes, sports fans, bookies and bettors. For a while there, we didn’t know what to wager on, beyond table tennis, the weather, and some other weird stuff.

Have you ever stopped to wonder whether climate change and COVID might be related?

WebMD reports, “It’s a link few might have considered, but a new study indicates that climate change may have prompted the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Providing further details, the site explains, “Rising temperatures caused by greenhouse emissions have boosted the growth of bat-friendly forest habitat in China’s southern province of Yunnan and neighboring areas, making the region a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses, the researchers explained. Genetic data suggest the new coronavirus may have arisen in this region.”

While this is still just a theory, it is a compelling one. It also should serve as a warning about what might happen in the future. As the climate of our world continues to change, the ecology will keep shifting. This could contribute to the rise of future pandemics.

  • How Will This Impact You?

More pandemics in the future would mean more lockdowns for sports (and our economies at large).

With additional lockdowns will come additional dry periods without a lot to wager on.

As we learned through 2020 and 2021 as well, when athletes do play through a pandemic, the disease has other impacts.

It has become quite hard to predict when team members will get sick with COVID, how long they might take to recover, and what complications they might suffer.

This uncertainty makes accurate predictions harder than they would be at other times.

  1. Climate Change Could Result in Some Additional Betting Action

While the overall impact of climate change on sports betting will be negative, we do expect that some additional types of wagering might open up.

During the 2020 lockdown, for example, we saw weather betting become a big deal. As climate change continues to transform the world we live in, it seems altogether likely that some sportsbooks might start offering action on weather and climate alike.

Indeed, last year, MyBookie was actually offering action on climate change already under “Earth Events.”

At the time of this writing, there are not bets available in that section of the sportsbook. But it seems only logical that this will change in the near future, and that wagering on climate will become a regular staple of our lives.

  • How Will This Impact You?

Climate change may give you something extra to bet on over the years ahead. So, you may want to start doing your research now. The more you understand about climate change, the more likely it is you will be able to put that knowledge to profitable use.

There May Be Other Changes in Store for Sports Over the Years Ahead

We have now had a chance to go over some of what you might expect to change as you bet on sports over the coming years.

But just keep in mind that the list above is not exhaustive. The world has never changed this rapidly with such far-reaching global implications before. So, there will no doubt be other changes in the world of professional sports that we have not predicted.

What Can We Do About Climate Change?

If you are concerned about the ways in which climate change will impact the sports you love and your opportunities to bet on them, it makes sense to get proactive.

The right mindset with respect to climate change is to fully grasp its dire gravity, but also recognize that we still have a chance to prevent the worst of it from coming to pass. Below are some simple things you can do to help do your part.

  1. Inform Yourself About the Politics of Climate Change, and Vote Accordingly
  2. Climate change is, unfortunately, a very politically charged issue. Being as that is the case, you are going to want to study both the science of climate change and the politics of it.

    Once you have a deep understanding of both, you will be able to make smart decisions about voting, petitioning, writing your senators, and so forth.

    We’re not here to tell you who to vote for…
    We just hope you know what you’re doing!

  3. Tell Other People You Know About Climate Change
  4. Something else you can do that can help make a difference is to help educate other people in your life about climate change.

    This is easy to do, and costs you no time and little energy. You can tell other people about climate change on social media, and talk to family and friends about it in person.

    Many of the best stories to share about climate change are those that involve real world events. Instead of just telling other people about the changes we can expect in temperature degrees, tell them about real world wildfires, floods, and other catastrophes better taking place.

    You can also tell your fellow sports fans about the ways in which climate change will adversely impact the sports they follow and bet on.

  5. Donate to Activists Who Are Fighting Climate Change
  6. If you have some extra money, you can donate to organizations that are taking action to combat climate change. Even small donations are helpful, because they can add up.

    If you cannot afford to make a donation, you can always share an organization’s call for donations online.

    Make simple changes around your home and to your lifestyle to reduce your own carbon footprint.

    There are many simple adjustments you can make to how you live that can help reduce your own carbon footprint. Some ideas include:

    • Use energy-efficient LED lighting.
    • Switch from paper and plastic cups, utensils, etc. to reusable dishware.
    • Replace disposable hygiene products with reusable ones.
    • Cycle, walk, and use public transit when possible.
    • Carpool to work.
    • Plan carefully to avoid wasting food.
    • Choose slow shipping speeds.
    • When you are not using appliances, unplug them.
    • Avoid volatile chemical products when you can.
    • Use cold water for washing.
    • Shop locally for food.
  7. Start a Garden
  8. Have a little room in your yard or even on your patio? Consider getting into gardening. Planting trees and other green things helps to offset those being cut down or lost in fires.

    If you do not have room to garden at home, see if there is a community garden in which you can participate.

    Try composting too. The US Composting Council says, “Not only does compost reduce GHGs, but it also removes additional emissions from the atmosphere.” The council continues, “Finally, compost also helps to increase resilience to the effects of climate change – drought, extreme weather, and others- that we’re already seeing play out … Compost plays a vital role in helping to prevent erosion during extreme storm events and in retaining water when there are droughts. Both of those events are increasing with climate change and compost can help to buffer our planet from their effects.”

    So, gardening and composting are great ways you can directly help to counteract climate change.

  9. Connect With Your Local Community
  10. Finally, a lot of the changes we need to make as a society to fight climate change will happen on a local level.

    Many of us have lived lives that are disconnected not only from the planet, but also from each other.

    So, try and find ways you can connect more with others in your area. See what you can do to contribute to the resilience of the local food supply, and collaborate with your neighbors to find renewable energy solutions for your area.

Climate Change is Threatening the Sports We Love, But We Can Do Something About It

The situation facing us with climate change is a grave one. It will impact every area of our lives, including sports and betting.

But now that you are aware of the problem and its urgency, you can start to do something about it.

Follow the recommendations above to take action against climate change. And as you wager on sports over the years ahead, be mindful of the ways in which a changing climate could impact event scheduling and outcomes.

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