[Author: Akriti Kumari]
The short answer is yes, but the important question is how? It’s important to understand how climate change is a threat to sports and most important of it all, how sports can be an asset and a flag bearer in the extremely urgent cause of global warming.
It is important to talk about climate change in light of sport because sport is a cultural phenomenon that is not limited to any race, religion, country, etc. It has a universal reach with a fan base that is one of a kind. Take the recent example of Cristiano Ronaldo pushing aside the Coca Cola bottles, a mere 5-second act which not only initiated an online campaign concerning the harmful nature of the fizzy drinks, but the company also lost around $4 billion as a consequence. This kind of following could be utilised to initiate important conversations, such as climate change. Additionally, sport is not only vulnerable to climate change, but is also one of the highest contributors to greenhouse emissions and pollution.
In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India widened the meaning of “life” within Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to include the right to live with dignity within its ambit. Further, in the case of Subhash Kumar v. The State of Bihar, Supreme Court upheld the right to environment, which includes enjoyment of pollution-free water and air, to be within the meaning of the fundamental right to live and the courts can take action under Article 32 and Article 226 for the enforcement of the same.
IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON SPORT
Global warming, heat waves, drought, floods, storms, etc. are now frequent occurrences, and this can only be expected to get worse unless things are turned around for the better. These problems are also directly related to sports, and their execution. Long and frequent exposure of players and athletes to heat causes lesser concentration, subsequently resulting in poor performance. It can also lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, hyperthermia, and other heat-related illness. The quality of snow is degrading, leading to poor performance and higher chances of injury in related sports.
To put this into perspective, let’s understand climate change, and its relation with the most celebrated sport in India, cricket. Interestingly, Indian cricket is said to be hit hardest by climate change because of the nature of the game and the reliance on external factors such as weather, water, etc. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, India ranked seventh in terms of most-affected countries due to the impact of climate change. Therefore, it won’t be much longer before it becomes impossible to host cricket matches in India, especially in May and June. Certain instances, like that of Sri Lankan cricketers vomiting due to air pollution in 2017, eventually leading to them taking a break in New Delhi and of Australian players leaving the field to cool down, while few others required on-field medical attention in Kolkata are testament to these growing concerns.
Cricket is affected by numerous factors such as heat, drought, etc. As the world is becoming warmer with frequent heat waves, there is a direct impact of this on athletes, umpires, their physical and mental wellbeing, and their ability of judgement. Water is essential when it comes to cricket as it is usually played on grass which needs to be watered adequately to maintain the quality of the pitch and the ground. Droughts and floods all over the world are becoming more common than ever. Storms can create an upheaval, forcing millions to displace. Hurricane Irma and Maria in the West Indies in 2017 is a perfect example of how such a climate catastrophe can have a huge impact on sports as well. The majority of the islands’ cricket pitches were destroyed; people were sheltered at stadiums. It had such a huge impact that cricket is not being played on a large scale yet and many players took the decision to migrate.
IMPACT OF SPORT ON CLIMATE CHANGE
A water conservation charity called Aam Yuva Jan Kalyan Sanstha filed a petition asking the concerned authorities to assess the water wastage in the IPL matches. It’s only a matter of time before people become conscious of the excess water use and wastage in such sporting events. Water is becoming a luxury and there will come a time when decision-makers would have to prioritise water for necessities such as drinking, as against sports. Water wastage is just one of the examples where sport has a massive environmental impact. In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, approximately 340,000 tonnes of CO2 were generated through construction and renovation of infrastructures, and this was excluding foreign spectators who were not allowed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2010, the estimated carbon footprint of IPL was 42,264 tons of CO2, where approximately 75% of it was due to hospitality and travel. The emission from a single flight is so high that avoiding one trip can be equated to going car-free for a year!
Mega sporting events lead to construction of a large number of new infrastructures, community projects, apartments, parking spaces, etc., where the focus is not only on the sporting event, but also on boosting the tourism sector to generate revenue and gain commercial benefits. Another example of the adverse impact sporting events can have is that of the London Marathon 2018, when the City Council collected 47,000 plastic bottles, among other wastes, after the marathon! In such events, the carbon footprints of thousands of people travelling to watch the sport also add to the overall waste and carbon emissions.
Spreading awareness, and encouraging the various stakeholders of the sport industry to engage in sustainable sports, are steps towards achieving a harmonious balance between environment and sport. Another important step would be to acknowledge greenhouse emissions and introduce targeted efforts to reduce the same. Lord’s cricket ground has 100% wind-generated electricity, and their waste does not go to landfills; Forest Green Rovers club t-shirts are made of bamboo, their menu only consists of vegan food, and they have designed a stadium to be built entirely with sustainably sourced wood. The club is declared to be the greenest club in the world by FIFA. SailGP’s Impact League is the first climate-positive sport and entertainment property, where the teams are rewarded for their actions to reduce carbon footprint and accelerate the transition to clean energy. There are ten criteria based on sustainability on which the teams would be accountable, such as pioneering new technologies, removing single-use plastics, clean energy solutions, diversity and inclusion, among others. A few other exemplary initiatives around the world are the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, with Europe’s largest stadium battery which stores enough energy for an entire event, and the Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium in Bengaluru, which has implemented a zero-waste policy.
United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework is an extremely relevant initiative that helps sports organisations in identifying problems relating to the sport and environment, and in finding solutions to these problems. Sports organisations all over the world need to be held accountable, and signing of this framework would be an important step towards organisations working together and learning from one another. During COP 24, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Poland, the experts called upon countries to take human rights-based climate action in line with the Paris Agreement and also encouraged “integration of climate change policies and practises including human rights due diligence processes and impact assessments.”
The stakes are pretty high if no action is taken but it’s also true that not only the decision-makers can make a difference. Fans, being the ultimate consumer of the product, have the power to decide what to consume and what to boycott, based on the actions taken by the players, teams and organisers towards important environmental matters.
Sport is not just an industry of entertainment and leisure, but it also involves the question of our fundamental and human rights, and the right to livelihood for so many who are employed in the sector. Similarly, Climate Change affects our right to live with dignity with access to clean air, water, and environment directly affecting our standard of living and subsequently our very right of existence. Therefore, the sport industry needs to do their bit to explore and find a viable solution that will not only help fight climate change, but also preserve the existence of sports as we know it today. The effect of climate change can already be felt but it’s time to make efforts and help our world become a better, and most importantly a greener place.
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PREFERRED CITATION: Akriti Kumari, Is your favourite Sport under threat? SLPRR <https://sportslawandpolicyreviewreporter.com/?p=1760≥ January 18, 2022.
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