Joanne O’Riordan: Sports’ rulers need to just stop ruining the world

Unless sports help offset climate change, the end of play could be nigh

Back in May of 2017, Rachel Daly, then playing with the Houston Dash in the NWSL, collapsed during a match against Seattle Reign, now OL Reign. Reign won 2-0, but that game took place in Houston when the temperatures rose to 35 degrees during an afternoon kick-off. Daly was ultimately okay but said what happened was a “frightening experience”.

Fast-forward more than six years and US Open beaten finalist Daniil Medvedev had some choice words for event organisers as temperatures rose well above 30 degrees during tennis matches. “One player is gonna die, and they’re gonna see,” Medvedev muttered in the middle of a match. As temperatures got higher, he fell on to his chair between sets and draped himself with ice-packed towels.

That was an unusual scene for the US Open, a tournament that traditionally tended to start in muggy and sticky August heat but then, towards the end of the second round, attendees would need a cardigan or a light jacket to protect themselves from that autumnal breeze.

But with our climate changing, temperatures are hitting ridiculous new highs and extreme weather events are becoming more regular. Ireland had its hottest June on record, followed by its wettest July. August somewhat sorted itself out but there was something uncomfortable about the “back-to-school weather” we joked about.


Sports and climate change are two ends of a spectrum that could meet with catastrophic results. There is now an incredible tension – absurd money v ecological preservation – and players are being pushed to their limits. We have seen young athletes suffer and some even die from heat stroke, and yet the scheduling of games, tournaments and training has only grown more intense in many sports. The cycle is an escalating danger.

With more and more sporting events being held globally – Fifa president Gianni Infantino has confirmed the men’s World Cup will expand to 48 teams in 2026, while the men’s Club World Cup will have 32 teams in 2025 – and more events being spread across multiple nations there are more emissions than ever because of the world of sport.

The risk is that is the more a sport spreads, the more it threatens its own existence (and that of others). Research conducted by Badvertising and think-tank New Weather Sweden titled The Snow Thieves – How High-Carbon Sponsors are Melting Winter Sports, found that there are at least 107 high-carbon sponsorship deals within winter sports.

Winter sports rely on the very things that are being destroyed due to climate change. The report says that the combined emissions of two of the sponsors of Sweden’s world-famous Vasaloppet ski races – car manufacturer Volvo and energy firm Preem – account for the loss of 210km sq of snow cover. That volume of snow is roughly the area of 233 Vasaloppet ski races.

Sailing, too, could suffer greatly from climate change and water pollution.

Which is why the sport is making an effort to offset ruinous trends. For example, SailGP, the global sailing race league, is conducting “ecological-anchoring” projects with aims including preserving and restoring seagrass beds off the coast of Saint-Tropez, developing large-scale solar farms in England and planting native poplar trees in southern Italy.

Sport can and must do its bit. As sports grow into global industries, they must aim to have global impacts on our environment too.

Rather than aggravate climate change, sports can help to mitigate it, helping themselves in the process. We might all be getting frustrated by the Just Stop Oil protests that have taken over every event. Yet while most of us were thinking “Jesus, why are they disrupting snooker?”, the point to remember is that once sea levels rise, temperatures soar even higher and weather events obliterate countries and sporting events, Just Stop Oil and orange paint will be the least of our worries.