Leading Australian athletes call for greater action on climate change

David Pocock Ashley Western/PA Images via Getty Images

A group of leading Australian athletes are calling for greater action on climate change following the release of Climate Council report that says Australia's summer of sport could be wiped out within 20 years.

The Climate Council report, "Game, Set, Match: Calling Time on Climate Inaction" says temperatures could hit 50 degrees Celsius in Sydney and Melbourne come 2040, placing the viability and safety of summer sporting events in grave jeopardy.

"If global emissions continue to increase, Australian sports will have to make significant changes, such as playing summer games in the evening or switching schedules to spring and autumn," Dr Martin Rice, the Climate Council's head of research and lead author, said.

Australia paceman and the world's No. 1 ranked bowler Pat Cummins is no stranger to playing in hot conditions on home soil. But in the summer of 2019/20 Cummins was forced to steam in amid the bushfire smoke that settled in Sydney for weeks on end, and he recognises the need for urgent action.

"Like all Aussies, I was devastated to see the impact of the [2019/2020] bushfires and the multiple coral bleachings on the Great Barrier Reef," Cummins said.

"I'm used to competing in a battle between bat and ball. The battle for climate change is, of course, a lot more important than just a game of cricket ... we've seen athletes forced out of their events due to extreme heat and fire, and community cricket clubs forced to end their seasons early."

Joining Cummins in the call for greater action is long-time eco warrior and former Wallabies back-rower David Pocock.

Pocock in 2014 famously chained himself to mining machinery in protest in country NSW and he has continued to push the case for action on climate change since his retirement from rugby, most recently appearing on BBC podcast Emergency on Planet Sport.

"Australia punches above its weight in sport, winning gold and topping podiums, but we're falling behind on climate action," Pocock said.

"We don't have a credible climate policy. We could easily be a leader in clean technology, but our federal government is clinging to and subsidising fossil fuels, like coal and gas."

The key findings from the report include: the fact that athletes and spectators have fallen ill following exposure to extreme heat in recent years, including such events as the Australian Open and Ashes series; climate change is driving longer and more intense bushfire seasons, exposing athletes and spectators to dangerous air pollution; Australian sport is worth $[AU]50 billion to the economy and employs over 220,000 people, but governments are ill prepared for escalating climate risks.

Professional netballer Amy Steel, whose career was ended following a bout of heat stroke, said all levels of sport were at risk unless urgent action was taken against climate change.

"I was physically the fittest and strongest I had ever been. I never could have imagined this would be the last game I'd play, that it would end my netball career," she said.

"That incident left me with lifelong health issues, including chronic inflammation and fatigue. If this could happen to me - an elite athlete - then what are the risks for community sporting clubs, as climate change makes heatwaves longer, hotter and more frequent?"