Typhoon Hagibis gives us a glimpse of the stormy future of sport

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RUGBY fans from Aberdeen to Osaka were looking forward to one of the most exciting matches of the World Cup so far. Hosts Japan were set to face Scotland in Yokohama City on October 13 to decide which team would advance to the quarter-finals. Then the weather threatened to rain on the World Rugby party. Typhoon Hagibis, a tropical cyclone that packs winds of more than 161km (100 miles) per hour, hit the southeast coast of Japan the day before the game. Three other (less important) games were postponed. The organizers warned that the same thing could happen to Scotland and Japan.

The stakes were high for the teams. Japan, who had boosted the competition with a surprise win over Ireland, were desperate to reach the final stages on home turf. Meanwhile, Scotland had only once failed to make it out of the pool stages of the competition, in Australia in 2011. If the game was postponed, Scotland could not take points get enough to stay in the World Cup. Rugby World Cup rules prevent rescheduling of pool matches. The Scottish Rugby Union even threatened legal action against the organizers to force them to reconsider. Mark Dodson, Scotland’s chief executive of rugby, told the BBC that the rules were “against the whole sporting integrity of the competition”. At the last minute, the situation was deemed safe enough for the game to go ahead. Japan put in a great performance to win 28-21 and send Scotland home.

World Cup turmoil was the least of the country’s worries. The typhoon has killed at least 35 people and caused widespread damage. But it’s hard to ignore the impact of extreme weather on sporting events. At this summer’s Cricket World Cup in England, four matches were abandoned in seven days due to heavy rain. David Richardson, former director general of the International Cricket Council, complained of “extremely unseasonal weather” but said it would be “difficult to deliver” on reserve days. The tournament had scheduled group matches for 45 consecutive days. Last month, at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, almost a third of the 70 starters in the women’s marathon failed to finish the race in extreme (though not ideal) heat of 33 °C (91 °F), despite the shifted start time. to midnight to make conditions more bearable.

Water issues – not to mention typhoons, floods or heatwaves are likely to become more common as climate change makes some weather events more severe. In the case of storms like Hagibis, a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which makes them more intense. Last year saw more natural disasters than any year dating back to 1980, according to Munich Re, a reinsurer (see chart). In the future, coastal areas will become more prone to storms and floods, while inland areas will face heat waves and floods, according to Piers Forster, professor of climate physics at the University of Leeds and one of the authors of a report on climate. change and fun. A study in 2016 found that over the past 40 years, Asian typhoons such as the one threatening Japan have become 50% stronger. The tropical storms that hit America are also becoming more powerful. When it comes to sporting events, Mr Forster says, “nowhere is safe.”

What can organizers do to reduce the risks of extreme weather sporting events? The most obvious solution is to introduce more flexibility in when and where fixtures take place. America’s National Football League (NFL), whose season begins in September, at the height of the country’s hurricane season, is accustomed to rescheduling games due to severe weather. Its rules state that organizers will try to reschedule any postponed match within two days of the planned date. If the original location is not available, the fixture will be moved to the nearest alternate location. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the Saints, the local team, still played a full season, moving home games to stadiums in Louisiana, Texas and New Jersey. In golf, meanwhile, American tours of the PGA Tour take into account seasonal weather patterns. Last year the tour started in the southern states in October, before moving to California for five weeks in the winter (“swing coast-west”), and only going to the northeast as the weather improved in April.

Another option is to simply escape the elements altogether. Tennis has long been played indoors, and Wimbledon’s two courts with retractable roofs allow big matches to continue in pouring rain. The turn from outsider to insider affects more than just grieving spectators, however. Jamie Murray, doubles champion who took part in the club’s new covered court trial this summer, said “if the roof is closed the ball travels through the air more easily”. The fact that there is no wind or glare from the sun makes playing more challenging as well. In a sport like cricket, the effect would be even more pronounced: batsmen prefer sunny, dry conditions, which make it difficult for bowlers to “swing” the ball, or move sideways as it travels. through the air. A handful of cricket grounds, such as Melbourne’s Docklands Stadium, have a roof, but many fans argue that cricket’s exposure to the elements gives it an interesting look.

While sports leagues can take steps to mitigate extreme weather, the Rugby World Cup shows that this is not so easy to do with major one-off tournaments. Organizers should pay more attention to the climate when choosing venues. Qatar’s strong climate is likely to make the 2022 football World Cup difficult for players and fans. Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympic Games promised “mild and sunny weather” that would provide “an ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best.” ” When the city had a heat wave of 40 ° C last year, the organizers had to admit that heat is indeed a danger. In an article for the Times of Japan, Takeo Hirata, who is in charge of government coordination of the games, offered a series of vague solutions. These included not cutting down trees on the marathon route to offer runners some shade and pavements with a special coating that reflects infrared rays. A better option might be to reschedule the events for later in the year. One member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) told the New York Times that the main reason the Games can’t be moved from July and August is to fit the schedules of the pocket-full American broadcasters.

The cost of extreme weather could make lost broadcast dollars seem like loose change. Climate change is an increasingly expensive threat to many businesses. Between 2016 and 2018 America suffered an average of 15 environmental disasters per year, causing more than $1bn in damage (in current prices) – up from five per year between 1980 and 2015. -injured, however: it is often outside and it is difficult to rearrange fixtures. Since 2004, the IOC has taken out cancellation and abandonment insurance which covers its operating costs if the Games are disrupted. With the average cost of hosting the Games at $5.2bn, according to a 2015 study, insurers and fans alike will be hoping no such claims are made at next year’s Games. Rising insurance premiums can even make some events impossible. If sports can’t – or won’t – adapt to protect themselves from the elements, fans should expect more unrest as seen at this weekend’s Rugby World Cup.

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