When we are asked, “what makes us uniquely Australian?,” we most likely think of our love for the ocean, our open blue skies, and the extraordinary flora and fauna of our country.
What also makes us distinctly Australian is our incredible love of sport.
Consider that we are ranked eighth in the world for total Olympic medals won, yet by population, we’re a relatively small country. Sportsmanship is in our blood and our outdoors affords us the opportunity to do what we love - watch and play sport.
But our “outdoors” is under threat. As summer competitions, such as cricket and horse racing, get under way, it’s worth taking a moment to think about how sport will fare, as many of our communities struggle to cope with extreme drought.
Bare, dried-out fields are tough and dangerous to play on; brown bowling greens are useless and a lake so low that water skiing becomes impossible are all symptoms of drought impact, while extreme temperatures are hazardous for our health.
It is our rural and regional communities that feel this most acutely. Smaller communities especially need the social cohesion and respite found in sport, coming together to manage the stress and impact extreme weather conditions have on their livelihoods. The loss of sporting events in communities has led to reduced physical activity and poorer health, a tendency to increased alcohol consumption and boredom.The rising health, social and other impacts is estimated to cost Australia $2.4 billion per year.
So, as climate change ramps up the occurrence of extreme weather events, we run the risk of losing our sport at a time when we need it most. But we still have a chance to reverse this trend. As a country, reducing carbon emissions and increasing the uptake of renewable energy is the key to protecting our environment from the devastating impacts of climate change.
Individuals can also act, by making better decisions about how we conserve resources. For example we can take shorter showers to save water, turn off the lights when we leave our local club, or say “no” to single-use plastics like bottled water and straws.
When we protect our natural environment, we protect our people, our sporting culture, and our love of being Australian. What are we waiting for?
Dr Sheila Nguyen, executive director
Sports Environment Alliance