It had only taken minutes for Mitchelton Football Club to become entangled in the wrath of the destructive weather system that wreaked havoc across Australia’s east coast this month.
The viral footage of the popular Brisbane sporting club’s artificial turf, much like the social media content coming out of a flood stricken Queensland, gives only a glimpse of the devastation seen overwhelming the state.
“When you look at it and you think, you know, why is this happening at all?” Gary Green, Mitchelton Football Club’s president told The Inner Sanctum in the aftermath of the devastating flooding disaster.
“When you look at it and you think, you know, why is this happening at all?
“Then you find out about all the rest of the people that it’s happened to as well and all the individuals and homes.
“We’re just one of many.”
The ongoing devastation being faced by the Mitchelton Football Club is becoming an occurrence for sporting clubs right around Australia, as instances like floods, bushfires and heatwaves is set to continue to wreck havoc on all levels of sports in the country.
Mallacoota Golf and Country Club and Mallacoota Inlet Bowling Club were two sporting clubs victims to the bushfire disaster that ravaged the area back in 2019. A football ground in Maroochydore was seen completely flooded following the recent floods in Queensland, and as to did the Warringah Golf Club located in New South Wales, which suffered extensive damage from flooding.
Its a poignant situation gripping Australian sports, one in which researcher Audrey Quicke has been closely observing for a while.
“I think we all need to be worrying about these issues.” Quicke, a researcher for the independent think tank ‘The Australia Institute’, told The Inner Sanctum when asked about the danger that extreme weather events such as those seen in Queensland and New South Wales poses on sports.
The discussion of climate change has ramped up over the last several years and many sporting clubs, leagues and organisations are facing demand to step up their advocacy on extreme weather events, as well as questions about whether Australian sports will be able to adjust to future impacts of climate change.
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When asked if the recent reports which suggest that the recent weather events across the east coast were fair to be labelled as unprecedented, she responded with “No.”
“We know that climate change is increasing heavy rain events and so we know that Australia is likely to experience more intense rain events like the ones that we’re seeing in New South Wales and Queensland,” Quicke explains.
“We know that every degree of warming, earth’s atmosphere can hold roughly seven percent more moisture.
“So these events are going to get more frequent and they are going to get more severe.”
Quicke, who has a close connection to the topic through the adoration she developed for sport during her younger years of playing community sports on weekends, shared a pleading thought at the future of Australian sports.
“It’s devastating for me to think that if I have kids, they’re probably not going to be able to do that in a way because we are the extreme heat events increasing in severity and increasing in frequency, and there’s gonna come a time where we just can’t play sports in the same way have in Australia in the past,” Quicke explains.
Grassroots sports at risk
Whilst Quicke acknowledges the severity it has on elite sporting clubs, she also points out that junior and community sporting clubs are also looking
“It is also really common at that local level,” she explains.
“So there, we’re likely to see that local clubs might have to cut short their seasons due to increasing hot days.
“I think [sporting clubs] are gonna see a lot of parents considering whether they actually want to see their kids to be outside for really long hours at a time and covered in 35 plus degrees.
“You’re also likely to see more injuries because players are playing on dry ground and they are suffering from that heatstroke.”
According to a 2015 report from The Guardian, the high-profile case of teenager Torran Jake Thomas died three days after suffering from heatstroke during a rugby league training session.
The report stated that the temperature peaked 44.4 degrees, but the training session was conducted later in the evening when the temperature saw a slight decrease to 34.3 degrees.
The nature of the case underscores an issue that is prevalent not just at the elite level.
Aside from questions raised about the length of time junior players will stay with their clubs, Quicke also elaborates that particularly the financial side of things are to be considered to. She concedes that rising insurance costs which stem from extreme weather events and damage to infrastructure are among the issues that junior clubs will also face.
This is reminiscent of what Mitchelton Football Club are expected to deal with moving forward from the devastation faced from the recent Queensland floods.
When speaking to Mitchelton’s club president Gary Green explained that both the inside and outside of the clubhouse sustained quite a bit of damage as a result of the recent floods. He listed that among the damage suffered were to the grass field, the lighting system and the irrigation system.
He also cited damages to basic sporting equipment like footballs and shirts.
Whilst there is still quite a bit of work to be done in terms of the clean up and the “reconstruction phrase” of club, as well as questions surrounding the way for the club to move forward including what is to be done next, Green is filled with gratitude to the volunteers and support coming from the community.
“The message is just one of extreme gratitude,” He says.
“Every little bit of assistance will help make it eaiser for us and quicker for us to get all the kids that play down here, others back on the field and get our club up and running.”
Professional athletes already impacted
Just a look into the names linked to voicing concern and frustrations at times underscores that the issue lies across a large number of sports and of codes.
Whilst the topic of climate change has been a contentious issue which has been up for debate, there has been a number of professional as well as amateur athletes who reported showing signs of physical illness as a result of severe weather events.
The Sydney Herald Morning reported back in 2018 that the during the Sydney Ashes Test, English cricketer Joe Root was taken to the hospital on the hottest day recorded in the state of 42.
The paper had cited that the middle of the Sydney Cricket Ground peaked at 57 degrees and that as well as trying to fight off gastroenteritis, Root was also hindered by the impact of dehydration from the high temperature.
Former Australian netballer Amy Steel has shared her story with The Sustainability Report to which she claimed that the effects of an exhibition match, where she says that the knock on effect of her collapse from heat stroke, lead her to retire from sports.
“No doctor actually said to me ‘Look, this is it. This is the end of you career,’ and because of that I always just held onto the hope that I was going to get better, but I just didn’t.” Steel told The Sustainability Report in 2021.
“Then a week became a month, a month became a couple of months, a couple of months became a year.
“I’d gotten to the stage where I could hardly get out of bed.” She explained in her interview last year.
The list of big names who have spoken out about being impacted as a result of extreme weather events seem to grow larger.
Paula Badosa, Novak Djokovic, Gael Monfils and Daniil Medvedev have all recently spoken out about their experiences during tennis matches that were held on extremely hot days. Hugh Goddard also suffered from heatstroke during a Queensland training camp so severe, he collapsed to the ground and was hospitalised.
Amidst the Victorian bushfires in 2019, a haze of smoke blanketed parts of the state which caused interruption to matches being held as part of the Australian Open. Tennis players Dalila Jakupović, Bernard Tomic and Liam Broady were among the athletes that sought medical attention for breathing issues as a result of the smoke.
Major sporting organisations such as the Australian Open, Cricket Australia and the AFL have implemented heat policies to put in protection for players in the instance of extreme weather events.
The United Nations climate science body put out a landmark report that served as a warning for the world that the planet was on track to blowout past the 1.5 climate threshold. When asked about what it would mean for Australia if that threshold past 1.5 degrees, Quicke had this to say.
“So in Australia if we go over that threshold, we are going to see these extreme events increase in severity and in frequency.” She said.
“We’re going to see more extreme hot days, particularly in places like Western Sydney.
“There’s going to be more days over 35 degrees and there’s going to be more night over 20 degrees, which means the body can’t really recuperate after that day.
“We’re gonna see more of these flooding events and they are going to be more severe.”
Rise in player advocacy
“There’s some really big things that sports clubs can do themselves in the climate actions space.” Quicke says to the sports industries role in this issue.
One major thing that Quicke suggests as a solution is moving away from fossil sponsorships, much like the Australian Open did after cutting ties with oil and gas company Santos. She adds that there are other examples out there with sporting clubs which have connections to fossil fuel companies.
Another suggestion on what else could be done is one in which a multitude of big names in Australian sports have already publicly spoken out about: advocacy.
“We’re seeing that more and more sports stars [are] standing up and advocating for climate action.” She says.
“They’re calling for that climate action at the federal level, state level and really leveraging their fan base.”
It’s clear that concern for climate change is rapidly moving among those at the elite level of sports with a string of athletes coming forward to call for more climate action.
Former rugby union player David Pocock has been at the forefront of climate advocacy through his political endeavourer, as well as his commitment to the FrontRunners, an organisation which he is a co-founder of.
The Cool Down is an initiative which stems from Pocock’s co-founding of FrontRunners and has since attached some of the biggest names of Australian sports since its beginnings in 2011.
Pat Cummins, Darcy Vescio, Rachael Haynes, Marcus Bontempelli, Nick Cummins, Nathan Clearly, Cate Campbell, Alanna Kennedy, Mason Cox and Reece Walsh are just some of the big names who have put forward their support to the initiative.
The AFL has seen their own initiative for climate action known as AFL Players For Climate Action (AFLPFCA), which was kicked started by North Melbourne’s Tom Campbell and former Port Adelaide star Jasper Pittard. The initiative has seen over 260 men’s and women’s AFL players come together to call for action.
“We’ve heard so many stories from around the country. Training relocated due to bushfire smoke. Regional clubs facing closure due to rising insurance premiums in flood and fire-prone areas. Grounds so hard during prolonged droughts they’re leading to increased injury,” the group tweeted about the initiative.
Cricket Australia has also started Cricket for Climate, whilst former professional surfer Belinda Baggs is the co-founder of Surfers for Climate.
Quicke has praised the actions of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) for installing solar panels at their stadium in 2020, which she points to as being the sort of action that other stadiums and sporting events could mirror.
General Manager of facilities of the MCG Peter Wearne addressed the new addition to the stadium in a press release.
“Sustainability is embedded into the operation of the stadium, from strict waste management programs, water recycling and monitoring of our energy consumption, to being a part of local and global action groups committed to furthering environmental principles,” Warne said.
“The use of solar power is an exciting next step for the stadium and we are looking forward to seeing how the panels perform across the coming summer and beyond.”
But whilst there are small steps being taken by those like Pocock and the MCG, there is a reminder from Quicke that more needs to be done. The Australian Institute in which she conducts research with runs the nation’s longest climate poll called Climate of the Nation.
Through the independent think tanks’ work, Quicke exclaims that through the poll that is run, there is a clear consensus from a lot of people that the issue is worth talking about. She says that most of Australia are for the idea of the country being a leader on climate change.
They’re concerned about those climate impacts increasing and they want the government to stand up and do something about it.”
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