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Sport, Sustainability

Sport under threat from climate change

During my doctoral research one of my participants brought in a photo of her sand boarding. It was snow boarding on sand dunes and we talked about the potential impacts of climate change on sport, particularly winter sport. Check out the website for my research here.

The cross country ski program in Special Olympics Alberta – Edmonton has had a rough couple years, with barely enough snow and frigid temperatures they practiced four times this year. Last year at the Canadian National Games in Corner Brook, Newfoundland the high school gym classes consisted of shoveling snow onto the cross country ski course so that they could run the races (all the snow hit after the event). It’s been a tough go.

I was watching ESPNs feed of the Special Olympics World Games on now in Schladming, Austria. During the opening ceremonies, I learned about the athletes from a wide number of countries such as Israel and Jamaica who are there to compete in winter sports like snowshoeing and speed skating but have, at most, practiced on snow or ice respectively only a handful of times. The snowshoers practice on sand, the speed skaters on cement pads in inline skates.

This brought me back to the photo of sand boarding; is this our future? Will we be skating on frozen ponds in the future or will we be heading for cement pads?

There is a fair amount of research that discusses the likely impact of climate change on winter sports. This is mainly focused on the economic impacts of increased maintenance (snow making) and decreased tourism. But I wonder about the other impacts, the more personal ones.

What if I had never discovered skating on a frozen patch in someone’s backyard? Regardless of all the sports I do and love, I’m a figure skater at heart, what if I hadn’t been able to try it?

What if the snow season continues to change and disappears, will the Birkenbeiner ski races continue?

Will we have to truck in sand rather than make snow if we want to go downhill skiing?

Ice is pretty important to Canada’s identity. Hockey and figure skating are part of who we are, how will that change if we continue to contribute to climate change?

When people talk climate change they often talk about future generations but I’m more selfish than that. I have seen changes in the weather trends that make up our climate and I need to do something to combat the threat of climate change on the sports (and other things in my life) that are part of my identity. Turning the shower off while I’m soaping, taking public transit, and wearing an extra sweater don’t seem like sacrifices when I consider what I will lose if I don’t do something.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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