Surfing, skiing, running:three sports facing the challenge of climate change

Surfing, skiing, running:three sports facing the challenge of climate change

Snow-free mountains, eroding beaches, overheating cities:our worldwide playgrounds are suffering under the effects of climate change.

Finding their sports affected, skiers, surfers, and runners are on the front line when it comes to sounding the alarm and taking action. Focus on three sports that are having to change tactics to survive.

Surfing, skiing, running:three sports facing the challenge of climate change

As a matter of fact, sports provide an optimal monitoring platform from which to measure the changes that are affecting our environment.
From one sports contest to another, ski slopes dwindle away, stadium lawns are invaded by new species of mushrooms, beaches with surf spots erode, playing fields overheat, players pass out from dehydration, and training is grinds to a halt due to lack of clean air.
Luckily, the people involved in sport are taking action all around the world to save their playground: the planet.

Surfing in the eye of the storm

There are few sports that bring humans as close to nature as surfing. Forever keeping an eye on the state of the oceans and the quality of the waves, surfers have been watching the global changes from beaches the world over. And the news is not good. Four years ago, a Stanford University researcher had already noticed that 18% of California's most popular surf spots may be swallowed up by the sea over the next the 60 years.

In 2018, another reported, published in the National Geographic, predicted that the iconic beaches along the west coast of the US (Venice, Newport, Santa Monica) could be reduced by one to two thirds of their size over the same period. But climate change doesn't just nibble away at the beaches: marine currents and wind affected by changing temperatures, coastal erosion, and ever-increasing natural disasters all combine to disturb the pattern of wave generation, sometimes creating big waves, other times much weaker waves.

Closer to home, the Aquitaine coastline has also suffered the impacts of erosion and the beaches have receded dozens of metres over the last few decade. In Lacanau, the surf schools - whose number has grown by a factor of 9 from 1995 to 2016 - have come together to brainstorm new methods of investing in the beaches in a more environmentally responsible way. In Tahiti, which is due to host the surf events of the 2024 Olympics, the Teahupoo community is also taking action; they have set up an association to sound the alarm about the effects that the gargantuan installations are predicted to have on the coastline and its waves. More than ever before, surfers can now act as observers of climate change: Surftech professionals have created the 'SmartFin', a fin that surfers can attach to their boards to collect data that is then used for scientific research on coastal ecosystems.

Surfing, skiing, running:three sports facing the challenge of climate change

Winter sports with their backs to the wall

According to figures published by The Lancet, 8 of 19 cities that hosted the winter Olympics since 2024 won't be able to do it any more by 2050. 

To counteract the lack of snowfall, many ski resorts are constantly forced to resort to snow canons. In the Alps, it can happen that up to 32% that the ski area is covered by such artificial snow, which is shocking when you consider the impact these machines have on the surrounding ecosystem due to their level of water and energy consumption.

In 2019, the Montclar ski resort, located at a moderate altitude, even had snow delivered by helicopter. Ski resorts are now apprehensively turning towards more sustainable solutions, by diversifying the activities on offer with sports that don't depend on snow such as mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, trail running, etc.

This is crucial to their survival, since ski stations have to be open for at least 100 days in the season in order to be economically viable, according to a report published by the French Court of Auditors in 2018. The mutation of the summits, assuredly sped up by the Covid-19 epidemic, is therefore now in full swing. In fact, the Montclar resort now advertises its summer season on its website, posting: “Get on your bikes, prepare your wings, bring out your hiking shoes!”

Surfing, skiing, running:three sports facing the challenge of climate change

Races run in the shade

For runners, the race is no longer only about beating the stopwatch: it's also about battling the thermometer. The organisers of the Tokyo Olympic Games, due to take place in 2020 but postponed to 2021, had planned to move the location of the running events (women and men's marathons and 20km and 50 km walks) 800 km north, to the island of Hokkaido. Indeed, the capital had undergone a heat peak of 41°C in 2019, and it was feared that heat might make it impossible for the competition to take place. That decision recalls the Doha World Athletics Championships in 2019, where conditions of 33°C and 90% humidity, even at 11pm, forced several athletes to pull out; or the 2012 Boston Marathon, in which 2,100 runners suffered dehydration due to temperatures rising above the seasonal average.

To deal with the climate risk factor, organisers increasingly tend to move event times to early in the morning or late in the day. In Doha, for instance, the women's marathon was even moved to 11.59 pm in hopes that temperatures would cool off.

Sports professionals everywhere are searching for new ways to keep going in the face of the changing climate situation. And in every country, sportsmen and women are engaging in more environmentally responsible practices (plogging, charity races, etc.), to combine exercise of the body with exercise of citizenship. That, in turn, pushes sports organisations to jump in with their own engagement: A total of 80 sports organisations have signed the United Nations "Sports for Climate Action" framework agreement . Among them are the Fédérations Internationales (FI) (International Federations) of sport, as well as the organisation committees for the next three editions of the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, and Paris 2024.
In fact, Paris based its winning 2024 candidacy on a commitment to balance climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of the Olympic Games by 55% compared to the previous edition.


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