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Climate change threatens the UK’s favourite sporting events

Extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are threatening the future of the UK’s favourite sports, with cricket matches increasingly lost to rain, football pitches too waterlogged for play and famous golf courses falling into the sea.

That is the conclusion of a new report by The Climate Coalition, a campaign group. It urges sporting bodies to adapt to the changing environment and calls on governments around the world to take further action to reduce carbon emissions.

Climate change is altering weather patterns around the world. In the UK, it is resulting in more rain, which is having an impact on the country’s sporting pastimes. 

Cricket is among the worst affected sports, with 27 per cent of England’s one-day international matches reduced by rain disruption since 2000.

According to the Met Office, the country has endured six out of the seven wettest years on record since 2000. The recent winters of 2013-14 and 2015-16 had record-breaking rainfall that was 50 per cent higher than average, leading to the flooding of sports facilities across the country. 

Coastal erosion at Montrose golf course in Angus © Atimages/Alamy

The England and Wales Cricket Board, the country’s governing body, has given £2.6m in emergency grants to cricket grounds in the past two years to help cover the cost of lost revenue from rain-affected matches. The board has set aside a further £2.5m a year to help local clubs mitigate the effect of increased rainfall, such as flood repairs and keeping grounds fit to play through the summer season.

The issue is leading to fears that public interest in cricket could falter.

“There are pragmatic issues; why will people pay their money to play or watch the game at a time money is tight?” said Russell Seymour, the sustainability manager at the Marylebone Cricket Club, the body that controls the Lord’s ground in London. 

Carlisle’s ptich is submerged after flooding hit the football club in 2015 © Getty

Grassroots football is also being hit, with local clubs losing five weeks each season on average due to bad weather and waterlogged pitches. More than a third have lost two to three months of games. Partly in response to these issues, the Football Association is investing £48m in installing artificial “all-weather” pitches across the country.

In Scotland, the ancient home of golf, more than one in six of the nation’s 600 golf courses are located on the coast. But coastal erosion, rising sea levels and storm surges are threatening famous venues, such the Old Course at St Andrews and Royal Troon.

Even a small increase in sea levels could wash away all of the nation’s famous links courses — which are built on dunes, sandy soil and grassland — by the end of the century. 

At Montrose Golf Links in Angus, one of the UK’s oldest courses, the North Sea has advanced 70 metres from the coast in the past 30 years, forcing the club to change some holes and abandon others altogether. 

Montrose has tried to defend its coastline with rock armour, but is seeking government funding for more measures to help save the course from erosion.

“Re-aligning golf courses to deal with sea defence is expensive but can be done,” said Dr Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change to World Wide Fund for Nature. “I grew up playing hockey on grass, but now a lot is played on AstroTurf. There are adaptations to sport that can happen.

“But ultimately, we need to reduce greenhouse emissions. Sports club federations can look to reduce their own emissions, they could look to move to renewable energy tariffs or improve insulation to reduce heating, and they can urge their members to do the same . . . individuals can have an impact.”

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