Climate Change in Tennis

Climate change affecting Tennis faster in more ways than you can imagine

An industry where the effects of climate change can be very detrimental but are less talked about is sports. It is an industry which is very close to me personally and within that, Tennis is the sport I am extremely passionate about. Unfortunately, however, while effects of climate change on winter sports are well understood and documented, they are often ignored in Tennis. I will be focusing on the International Tennis Association (ITF) which is the world governing body of Tennis.[1]

The physical effects of climate change, specifically, rising temperatures, have already manifested themselves in disruptions in the Australian Open. According to an article by John Upton on the Climate Central Website, ” Temperatures at the Australian Open have kept to double digits so far, contrasting with the brutal heat waves that struck last year, causing players and ball kids to pass out. Those heat waves have since been categorically linked by multiple teams of scientists to the build-up of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere.[2]

A study (Exhibit 1)[3] by Climate Central showed that all four cities hosting grand slams have had increasing temperatures. According to Climate Nexus, “In the 2015 US Open, athletes competed in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees with 40 percent humidity during the first round, leading to a record 10 retirements due mostly to heat stress.[4]” Till as late as last year, organizers were quite indifferent to the effects. As the article states, “Organizers of the Australian Open were seemingly indifferent last year to the growing heat challenges created for millionaire professional players by Melbourne’s often scorching Januaries. “No one is saying it is terribly comfortable to play out there,” the tournament’s chief medical officer said last year after Britain’s Jamie Murray was treated for heatstroke, BBC reported. “But, from a medical perspective, we know that man is well adapted to exercising in the heat. Whether it is humane or not is a whole other issue.[5]

Finally, however, organizers have taken notice. According to articles in the AP news archive and the Daily Mail, ” Following severe criticism of the handling of the 2014 Australian Open, organisers increased the temperature threshold from the 2003 level of 35°C (95°F) to 40°C (104°F) and increased the wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT) threshold from the 2003 level of 28 to 32.5 to allow for more continuous play and less stoppages in the future.[6][7],[8]” The organization has also started bringing in infrastructure changes such as construction of more indoor facilities and thinking about changing schedules to match the weather conditions better[9]. According to the Climate Institute, “Major sport venues are improving resilience at significant cost. New stadiums and upgrades now often include retractable roofs, synthetic surfaces, raised flooring and flood proofing, and equipment, and energy efficiencies to compensate for increased cooling costs. Many if not all these changes are beyond local facilities.[10]

 

However, most changes address short term issues and not systemic issues in the industry. I believe that a combination of both short and long term solutions is required to save the continuity in the sport.

 

Investment in Infrastructure: The first thing ITF needs to is a significant increase in infrastructure for the Australian open and the French Open, which has experienced extreme delays due to unpredictable weather. As described above, retractable roofs, indoor courts and cooling systems need to be instituted immediately. However, ultimately, Tennis is an outdoor sport and to maintain its popularity and viewership, infrastructure in other cities with better weather conditions needs to be developed. Cities in emerging economies need to be identified with careful research and tournaments in those cities need to be promoted.

 

Change of Venues: Ultimately, an option that needs to be considered is moving the two grand slams to the above-mentioned cities. This requires significant marketing and awareness effort in bringing up tournaments in those cities to the grand slam level. Before we dismiss this approach as unrealistic, we need to consider other sports have taken these dramatic approaches and have seen success. The most resounding success has probably been the introduction of the night grand prix in Singapore which has become a remarkable event in the country. The other has been with Cricket with the introduction of night matches with pink balls instead of white that stand out.

 

Exhibit 1[11]

“Climate Central analyzed temperatures… host grand slam tournaments, and … daily maximums were analyzed for the months when the bulk of the matches are played …. Since 1968, when professionals began competing in tennis’ grand slams, temperatures in the four host cities have been getting noticeably hotter.”

P.S. – Though we had to upload files so had an exhibit there. Didn’t know we had to submit it like this. Have added the exhibit as a photo

(745 words) without exhibit

(802 words) with exhibit

[1] Taken from ITF website (http://www.itftennis.com/about/organisation/role.aspx)

[2] http://www.climatecentral.org/news/tennis-grand-slams-heating-up-18566

[3] Taken from article by John Upton on ClimateCentral.org (http://www.climatecentral.org/news/tennis-grand-slams-heating-up-18566)

[4] http://climatenexus.org/learn/societal-impacts/climate-change-and-sports

[5] http://www.climatecentral.org/news/tennis-grand-slams-heating-up-18566

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Open_extreme_heat_policy

[7] http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2002/Australian-Open-Unveils-New-Policy/id-3bfc62ed047546232185b206ab066848

[8] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2857068/Australian-Open-revise-extreme-heat-policy-years-vomiting-players-fainting-ball-boys-fiasco.html (links 6 and 7 were reached through Wikipedia)

[9] http://breakingenergy.com/2015/02/09/hey-sports-fans-time-to-deal-with-climate-change-and-it-wont-be- cheap/

[10] http://www.climateinstitute.org.au/articles/media-releases/australian-sport-feels-the-heat-as-global-temperatures-rise.html

[11] Taken from article by John Upton on ClimateCentral.org (http://www.climatecentral.org/news/tennis-grand-slams-heating-up-18566)

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9 thoughts on “Climate Change in Tennis

  1. This was a really interesting post about a topic that hasn’t received a lot attention in the climate change discussion. I remember recent Australian Opens where play has been stopped multiple times for high heat. As we prepare for a World Cup in Qatar, this issue will become even more visible. How our most skilled athletes perform (or fail to perform) in increasingly temperature- and weather-hostile environments should be a wake up call for everyone. We are worried about how soccer stars will play in 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, but workers building the stadiums those players will perform in are already dying at an alarming rate at least in part due to those temperatures. Is the future of sport an indoor one? Are the struggles experienced in Australian tennis matches or soccer matches in Qatar a sign that climate change will limit human activity of any kind outdoors in many environments? It’s hard to see major world tournaments hosted in many countries in the future without significant investment in temperature-controlling operational infrastructure.

  2. This post nicely described the impacts of climate change on tennis, but what about the impacts of tennis on climate change? Tennis balls contain a rubber core. This rubber core is made from either natural or synthetic rubber [1]. Synthetic rubber is a crude oil derivative. In addition, tennis court asphalt is made from bituminous pitch with sand or gravel. Bituminous pitch is produced as a residue in petroleum distillation [2]. Thus, the production of tennis balls and tennis court asphalt require crude oil. According to the EPA, oil & gas drilling is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions [3]. Is simply playing tennis contributing to climate change?

    [1] https://www.google.com/patents/US4249730
    [2] http://www.fast-dry.com/newCons-hard-asp.php
    [3] http://www.foreffectivegov.org/oil-and-gas-production-major-source-of-greenhouse-gas-emissions-epa-data-reveals

  3. Divyang, it was really interesting to me as a tennis fan to read this as I have never really made the link between climate change and tennis. Most of the times when i saw climate impacting the normal development of a tennis tournament I blamed the season of the year or other external factors.
    One concrete example of how climate has impacted the tennis infrastructure is the retractable roof that the Wimbledon stadium had to install a few years ago to prevent the side effects of rain. I wonder how could this become more common in the future and generate an increasing cost pressure that couldn’t be afford in emerging markets, having as final consequence that more succesful sportman will come only from developed countries that can afford infrastructure to combat excesive heats or rain.

  4. Very interesting post on how sports are affected by climate changes. I totally agree on how climate changes impact the nature of the game, but disagree on potential solutions. Ultimately, tennis is a sport where it is not measured by absolute value but on relative performance. Thus, investing in infrastructures or changing the venues would only decrease the popularity of the sport – the players will at the end of the day adapt to the new environment.

  5. This post really made me think – thank you. I wonder if players will begin to use more HR monitoring to provide concrete data on performance during games. I think about what some other companies are doing in the space and I would love to see if temperature changes impact some players more than others – eg is Rafael Nadal unbeatable under 70F, 50% between 70-90F and <10% in 90F plus. I read recently that the average age of tournament winners is increasing (do you think they play better in the heat?). Check out this post from fivethirtyeight.. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/in-tennis-even-the-breakout-stars-are-veterans/

  6. This is a very interesting post. As a tennis fan I have certainly seen the negative effects of climate change on the sport, particularly at the Australian Open where temperatures and humidity reach dangerous levels. It is a shame when top players have to retire or are not playing at their highest caliber because the heat is so overwhelming. Clearly some combination of improved infrastructure and new host locations will be required to mitigate these negative effects, but has the ITF been making an effort to lobby law makers on climate change policy to address the root causes?

  7. Very interesting post, Divyang. As an avid skier and tennis player myself, I was able to really relate to the effects on climate change on sports.

    As a child, I would play tennis outside a few times each week. This is because like most children, I couldn’t afford to regularly play in expensive indoor courts which were air-conditioned. If temperatures continue to rise, it will be more and more difficult for children in more and more places to play outside for extended periods of time. Without children playing the sport, its hard to see the sport really growing / lasting. Therefore, I don’t know if investment in infrastructure solves the problem long-term. What are your thoughts?

    Also, is it anyone’s responsibility in the industry to start educating tennis players on the effects of climate change? Creating awareness among passionate tennis players / fans would hopefully create “ambassadors” for helping combat climate change.

  8. This is an interesting perspective on the topic which I hadn’t even considered. Outdoor professional sports more broadly could be severely affected by rising temperatures and building / cooling indoor stadiums for all of those sports probably isn’t a sustainable solution. Also, to your example of tennis, I think rising temperatures could introduce an interesting new dynamic to the game. For example, certain players may be more adept than others at adapting to higher temperatures and this could even change over time as the players age. I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out over time. This was a very cool and original take on the assignment – nicely done!

  9. What an interesting topic! My hometown has a subtropical climate, so climate often came up as an issue when visiting professional sports players or teams played our local outdoor sports teams. Yet, I hadn’t considered how this could increasingly be a problem elsewhere due to climate change.
    Indoor venues do not seem like a reasonable solution. They are highly costly and unsustainable. Plus, my hometown recently built a baseball stadium with a retractable roof, and no one goes to the games! People say that the indoor atmosphere takes away from the sport’s game experience.
    Has the ITF considered rearranging the schedule of major tournaments? They could simply reschedule the tournament dates for certain Grand Slams and other major tournaments to cooler times of the year. This way ITF would minimize the need for new infrastructure.

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