A new report – Playing against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change – by leading academic and author, David Goldblatt, written for the Rapid Transition Alliance, provides the first provisional estimate of the impact of global sport on the climate and warns that the climate emergency will have far more severe consequences for several sports.


The report warns that within the next three decades:

  • One quarter of English league football grounds will be at risk from flooding every season
  • One in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels
  • Half of previous Winter Olympic cities will be unreliable hosts of winter sports.

Context and background

Like every other industry and cultural sector, global sport was brought to a shuddering halt by the coronavirus pandemic. Yet as devastating as this has been, something even more problematic is waiting in the wings for the sporting circus.

Depending on the assumptions made, the emissions from global sport fuelling the climate emergency could, at the low end of estimates, still be equivalent to a nation like Bolivia, but could reasonably also equal the emissions of nations like Spain or Poland.

Making a carbon zero world the common sense priority of the sports world would make a huge contribution to making it the common sense priority of all politics.

Climate change is touching every aspect of human life and global sport is no exception: in 2019, the Rugby World Cup was disrupted by unprecedented pacific typhoons; in early 2020, the Australian Tennis Open was disrupted by the smoke blowing in from the country’s devastating bush fires. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics were forced to move long distance running events north of the capital as the city’s sweltering summer weather now makes them impossible to run.

Coronavirus is not climate change, but there are a number of clear lessons from the current crisis: take the science seriously and assume the worst-case scenario can happen; act now not later, and act radically. The kind of air pollution pushing climate instability, also worsens the impact of respiratory illnesses like those caused by Covid-19. If sport moved on this agenda, what kind of changes would it make?

“Sport provides some of society’s most influential role models. If sport can change how it operates to act at the speed and scale necessary to halt the climate emergency, others will follow,” says Andrew Simms, coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance, “If its’ players also speak out and say they believe clean air and a stable climate matter, millions more will see the possibilities for change. It will not only send a send a message of hope for the wider world, but it will help to guarantee a planet that is safe for sport. A first step would be to bring an end to sponsorship from fossil fuel companies and products promoting fossil fuel intensive lifestyles. At the moment sport is part of the problem, but it can become part of the solution.”

“As David Goldblatt and his team unmistakeably show, a concerted effort in sport to counter climate change is long overdue. We must all be ready to revise the ways we organise our events and tasks, and Play the Game is happy to take a first step by supporting this stimulating publication. But we won’t stop here. Climate action must be an essential part of sports governance. At our next international conference in 2021 sport and climate change will be a main theme, and we’ll do our best to engage our global network of reporters, sports leaders, athletes and officials in raising their game.”

– Jens Sejer Andersen, International director of Play the Game

We are already deep into extra time. According to the IPCC, if we are to mitigate the worst aspects of climate change then we need to carbon reductions in the next decade, but global sport can offer vital and visionary climate action leadership.

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