Climate Crisis and the Environment

Rising Sea Levels Spark Concerns Over Long-Term Sports Stadia Sustainability

Matthew Cotter

Undeniably, rising sea levels are one of Earth’s current biggest threats. But in the world of sport, its consequences are somewhat unknown. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that sea levels are set to rise by 3.6 feet by the end of the century and that low-lying areas should prepare for annual extreme flooding. The effect that this will have on the infrastructure of professional sport is set to be catastrophic if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. 

A staggering one-quarter of English Football League grounds are at severe risk of extreme flooding in the next few decades. In the Premier League, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, West Ham’s Olympic Stadium and Southampton’s St Mary’s are all at high alert. Furthermore, in the Championship, Norwich, Hull City, Middlesbrough, and Cardiff are all set to face the brunt of the consequences caused by these dramatic rising sea levels.

 the site of [Everton’s] proposed stadium could be submerged come to the end of the 21st century

Surprisingly, however, Everton’s £500 million dockside stadium was given the all-clear by the UK Government in March. Back in 2017, Manchester Metropolitan University researcher Graeme Heyes forecasted that the site of the proposed stadium could be submerged come to the end of the 21st century. Heyes argued, “one can only hope the developers of this new stadium have undertaken a full climate change risk assessment – or have stocked up on sandbags!” With environmental groups stressing the significance of the rising sea-levels, Everton’s board’s decision seems impulsive. Like Heyes, we can only hope Everton will have one eye on the future in the construction process. 

A report published by environmental group Rapid Transition Alliance has called for sports organisations to commit to carbon zero plans by 2030.  This comes as a result of estimates stating that global sport is responsible for emission levels the same as nations like Spain and Poland. 

More globally, the report estimated that a third of all Open Championship Golf courses could be severely affected and that half of previous Winter Olympic cities would be unsuitable winter sports hosts in the future. In Asia, cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, and Shanghai are threatened with being erased. For Cricket, the loss of Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium and Kolkata’s Eden Gardens would be cataclysmic; both historic venues are set to play a pivotal role in the forthcoming 2021 T20 World Cup.  

Whilst aesthetically pleasing, the [stadium] plans have been criticised as ill-advised due to the expectation that the surrounding water is to rise in coming decades

Major League Baseball team, Oakland Athletics, are determined to build their new stadium on the bayfront. Yet, whilst aesthetically pleasing, the plans have been criticised as ill-advised due to the expectation that the surrounding water is to rise in coming decades. This has become a challenge for many coastal sports teams who will now have to consider long-term climate change as a factor when planning for relocation. 

In Florida, this is a reality that is already being faced. Chair of the University of Miami’s Department of Geological Sciences, Harold Wanless, has commented that many in Southern Florida will be ‘moving on this century’ assessing that living in the region is ‘not a long term option’. This is set to be a devastating blow for sport in the region which has an estimated worth of $57.4 billion and supplying over half a million jobs. NFL franchise Miami Dolphins, already having to contend with hurricane damage and extreme heats, are now expecting annual flooding with the rising sea-levels. Similarly, experts have anticipated American Airlines Arena, home to NBA side Miami Heat, will face high levels of flooding within 20 years or less.

If the status quo is retained, the sporting landscape is set to face a dramatic transformation in the upcoming century. Hundreds of world-class sports stadia will likely be lost to rising sea levels. Sport undoubtedly can play a leading role in the world’s efforts to halt climate change; to ensure its survival, it may need to. The seemingly inevitable devastation will not only erase money and jobs but will leave to waste people’s memories and passions. 

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Matthew Cotter

Featured image used courtesy of The Stadium Guide via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

In article video courtesy of @everton via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

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Climate Crisis and the EnvironmentSport

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