There is a danger that cricket’s governing bodies will focus only on symptoms, rather than causes of the threat, writes Paul Sinclair.
When I was in the middle of treatment for cancer a few years ago, the place I’d go for comfort was my local cricket ground.
One reason I found this place so comforting while being physically and emotionally demolished by chemotherapy were the friendships I’d made from years of playing, coaching and cooking thousands of sausages.
When confronted with a nasty tumour that seemed hellbent on trying to kill me, my cricket club helped keep me sane. The friendships made on and around the ground were the source of love and humour that made it possible for me to withstand a really crap experience.
The game is important to me because I know at its best it unites individuals who then become capable of doing great things together.
Anyone who has seen the Adam Goodes films knows sport is about much more than games. It’s a window into who we are as a community – for good or ill.
At my own community cricket club the game is a glue binding together people born in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, South Africa, England and Australia.
Climate change threatens to break cricket apart.
The Hit for Six report, released in England, examines how climate change is drying out cricket grounds, making players more vulnerable to heat stress and increasing the likelihood of match disruptions from extreme weather – and how governing bodies need to do more to address the problem.
Australian spin bowling legend Share Warne was so shocked by the report he urged cricket leaders to “be proactive, not reactive” and called on authorities to act now against “humanity’s most pressing challenge”.
Climate change is already leading to more extreme heatwaves. Unless we act, extreme heat will worsen. This will result in more games being postponed, poorer performance because of heat influenced cognitive deterioration and increased likelihood of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
At present Melbourne experiences nine very hot days exceeding 35 degrees on average each year. Scientists say this will increase to an average of 26 days over coming decades. In regional areas this can be much worse.
The climate is already changing. When my club committee of management meets to discuss how we can keep our junior players safe on drying grounds and in more intense heatwaves, we are dealing with a symptom of climate change.
We increasingly have concerns about the impact of extreme heat on our junior players. Kids coming straight from a baking hot school to play an early evening game are vulnerable to heat stress, due to their inability to regulate body temperature as adult bodies can.
Summers in Australia have always been warm, but let’s not kid ourselves – eight out of the ten hottest years in Australia’s history have been since 2005. If global warming is allowed to continue at its current rate, Adelaide and Perth will have a 60% increase in days over 40 degrees in 2030 (compared to the 1981–2010 average). Sydney and Melbourne could see summer maximums up around 50 degrees.
Cricket depends on the weather like few other sports. Changes in rainfall and temperature change the movement of the ball and can turn a match.
Prolonged drought and competition for water puts intense pressure on cricket grounds and turf pitches in India, South Africa and Australia. Cyclones in the Caribbean are more regularly destroying grounds and stadiums. In England, flooding and changing rainfall patterns are causing havoc.
There is a danger that cricket’s governing bodies will focus only on symptoms, rather than causes of the threat. Cricket Australia is doing important work in improving the sustainability of national cricket venues and has prepared a policy to help administrators manage extreme heat conditions.
But players having ice baths addresses the symptom, not the cause of more extreme heat. Burning fossil fuels is one of the biggest problems, and it needs to be hit out of the park.
Australia might have retained the cricket Ashes, but in the Climate Ashes the UK beats us in everything from clean energy generation to setting deep targets to reduce pollution.
Leadership from grassroots clubs, players and supporters willing to speak up for a better world free from climate pollution is required. Change is necessary, possible and achievable. Lords, the home of cricket, is now powered by 100% wind generated electricity. A future powered by clean energy is good for cricket.
My own club, Youlden Parkville Cricket Club, has become the first cricket organisation in the world to join the UN’s Sport for Climate Action Initiative. We hope more community cricket clubs – and clubs from other sporting codes – will join us.
Most importantly, grassroots cricketers need Cricket Australia to speak up for national and global solutions that match the scale of the problem facing the game we love.
Paul Sinclair is campaigns director at the Australian Conservation Foundation and president of Youlden Parkville Cricket Club.
This piece was originally published by Guardian Australia.