Climate change could make January too hot for Australian Open, scientists say

Republished from ABC News - Posted 

Climate scientists say the Australian Open could become too dangerous to play in the peak of Melbourne's summer and have proposed moving the major to a cooler month.

Tennis player retires from Aus Open qualifier after coughing fit

PHOTO: Russia's Dalila Jakupovic choked on smoke haze during a qualifying match last week at the Australian Open. (Nine Network)

In recent years, Tennis Australia has implemented a series of measures to deal with the impact of hot weather on players, officials and spectators at the tournament including a "heat stress scale".

The scale mandates responses such as cooling players with ice vests and baths, up to suspending matches depending on local conditions.

However, a report from the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, released today to coincide with the beginning of the 2020 Australian Open, argues more dramatic action will be required as the climate continues to change.

Options to adapt to a changing climate

"What we found from this research is that climate change and extreme heat are already having an impact on the Australian Open and without effective climate mitigation [those impacts] are likely to increase moving forward," said co-author Stephanie Hall.

The Australian Conservation Foundation-commissioned report suggests a number of ways for Tennis Australia to adapt to the changing conditions.

Melbourne Park on first day of 2020 Australian Open

Ms Hall said one option would be to avoid scheduling matches during the hottest part of the day, which would require extending the tournament by a week.

Another would be to move the event to March or November, when the weather is generally cooler.

"We recognise that there are considerable economic and logistical implications with some of these suggestions, however, this is the unfortunate nature of playing outdoor sport in a changing climate," she said.

Players to suffer 'unprecedented' heat stress

The Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub's analysis shows that heat stress in recent years has been particularly severe, leading to greater impacts on play.

"There has been a significant increase in average daytime temperatures and the number of extreme heat days during Melbourne's summer months," the report says.

"Looking ahead, high-resolution climate models show that under 'business as usual' emissions scenarios, Januaries in Melbourne will heat up, increasing the likelihood of match disruptions.

"Over the next 40-60 years, average maximum temperatures are projected to increase significantly, as are the number of days at 35 Celsius or above.

"These projections suggest that continuing to play the Australian Open in its current format will expose competitors and fans to unprecedented levels of extreme heat."

Heat and smoke a 'one-two punch'

While conditions are expected to remain mild temperature-wise this week, it's not just the heat that's causing problems.

Play was halted at the Kooyong Classic last week because of smoke from the bushfires — which have also been linked to climate change.

At Australian Open qualification matches, Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic said she could not walk anymore and was "really scared" she would collapse after a coughing fit.


Other players reported requiring asthma medication, despite never suffering the condition previously.

The air quality in Melbourne was rated as good for Monday, however that could change over the coming weeks if wind again blows smoke over from the bushfires that continue to burn in Victoria's Gippsland and north-east regions.

"This bushfire season has been absolutely unprecedented, and players are having to deal with this too," another of the report's authors, Dr James Goldie, said.

"We've seen in the lead-up to this tournament that players are really concerned about health.

"It's a one-two punch with player health."

ABC contacted Tennis Australia for comment.