Sports urged to tackle climate action over legal risks

Sporting organisations could open themselves up to legal risks by failing to tackle climate change, as some of the nation’s favourite codes came under fire for their response to the issue.

A report examining the impact of climate change on sports governance from FrontRunners and the Environmental Defenders Office found potential breaches of duty of care to players.

It found there could be a breach if they became ill or injured due to heat or poor surface conditions such as flooded grounds, artificial snow or surfaces hardened by drought.

That could also apply to spectators if venue operators failed to protect them from damage caused by extreme weather, the report claimed.

Play suspended or cancelled due to extreme weather could be considered breach of contract, it found, while directors could also come up against issues if they failed to consider climate change in risk assessments.

The impact of extreme weather on sport attracted attention in January when two days of the Australian Open were thrown into chaos by sweltering conditions and a heavy downpour, while two A-League players were treated for heatstroke after their game went ahead in 35 degree heat.

The report authors reviewed 314 top national and state sporting organisations and found some six per cent referred to climate change or sustainability in their strategic plans.

They found just three references to climate change in those organisations’ annual reports released up to September 2023.

“The worst performing sports in terms of climate change and sustainability action include volleyball, rugby league, athletics, gymnastics, cycling, diving, modern pentathlon and sailing,” the report stated.

“Each had, when excluding the publication of heat or extreme weather guidance, zero climate change or sustainability initiatives.”

Australian Cricketers Association chief executive Todd Greenberg hoped the report would spark conversations between major sporting bodies and players.

“Previous reports have identified that as a summer sport, cricket will be among the hardest hit by climate change,” Mr Greenberg said.

“We’ve already seen this play out with extreme heat having an impact on the health of cricketers, as well as bushfire smoke disrupting matches during the Black Summer fires.

“This is why it’s important that all we take action right across cricket to protect the players and the game we love.”

FrontRunners chief executive Emma Pocock said sporting bodies must act quick to turn things around.

“Sports bodies are lagging behind other parts of our society in meeting the challenges of climate change, but there are ample opportunities for them to catch up,” she said.

The report called on governing bodies to ensure extreme weather policies are up to date to protect players, spectators and officials.

Other recommendations included reviewing contracts for extreme weather concerns, checking they had adequate insurance, considering climate at the board level by including it reporting obligations and reviewing risks to physical infrastructure.

Sports lawyer Ben Ihle KC said climate change was an “ever-apparent and increasing danger” to sports and sports administrators.

“Sporting organisations and infrastructure operators who fail to acknowledge and address those legal risks are leaving themselves open to suits brought by athletes, spectators, and even commercial partners,” Mr Ihle said.


Rachael Ward
(Australian Associated Press)


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Categories: Legal