How Climate Change is Messing with Sports

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We've all heard about the dangers of global warming and climate change. It's going to make the oceans rise, drown our cities, kill plants, cause hurricanes and ruin the Earth for our grandkids. But that's all secondary to the real effects of global warming; it's wreaking havoc on the sports world. Here's a look at seven ways climate change is messing up sports.

Marathon Mayhem

Organizers were worried going into last weekend's Chicago Marathon. The temperatures were expected to top anything seen in the marathon's 30-year history, which meant some runners could overheat or become dehydrated. Either way, they knew times would be down. So they responded with new cooling stations, record amounts of water, 700 medical workers on standby and mist adapters for fire hydrants along the route. Even with all that planning, they weren't nearly ready for what happened. One man died from a heart condition and 312 other runners were treated at hospitals or medical stations. The city ran out of ambulances to treat runners and cut the race short, diverting runners to Grant Park, where they later complained of a lack of water. All told, the record-setting marathon (in temperatures only, not speed) was a mess and could cost Chicago the 2016 Olympics.

What Would Balto Say?

Not surprisingly, it's the winter sports that are getting hit hardest by the Earth's rising temperatures. Skiing officials around the world are trying to deal with retreating glaciers in the Alps and melting snow elsewhere in the world. Some estimates say that Aspen won't be able to support skiing as early as 2050. The Lake Champlain Ice Fishing Championship has been scrapped in recent years because the lake hasn't frozen over. Biathlon trials have been canceled. Even the Iditarod, that intrepid Alaskan race, has succumbed to heat. Every year since 2003, the race hasn't been able to start in the traditional starting point in Anchorage because of melting snow and slush. In the race's 30 years before 2003, the starting point had never been moved, but now the "Idita-detour," as one race official called it, has become a bit of a tradition itself.

Snow moves Cleveland to Milwaukee

indians snow.jpgThe 2007 Cleveland Indians season opened with high hopes, but this being Cleveland, those hopes couldn't be realized without a struggle. That struggle started right off the bat during the April 6 home opener against Seattle. With an unseasonable snow storm in town, the players started the game in conditions more akin to a nasty football game (check out one fan's video of the affair here). With only one strike left until the game could become official, the umps decided to call the game due to weather, much to the dismay of the Indians (who were on the wining end of a shutout). Some last-minute rescheduling and subsequent canceling of the remaining games of the series resulted in a four-day break for both teams, who spent the time playing in the snow. The next Indians series, this time against the Angels, was moved to Miller Park, where the teams could play under a roof and not worry about the freak snowstorm that followed the Indians to Milwaukee. The scheduling snafu from the canceled games meant both Cleveland and Seattle had to forfeit several days off to fit the games in and Cleveland would end up playing home games in three different cities.

Miami Dolphins Cool Off

The Miami Dolphins used to be really good, back in the days of the perfect season and Dan Marino. But lately, things haven't been as hot for the Dolphins. That's partly because of, well, how hot it's gotten. The scorching heat during training camp and the early season was endangering players during practices, so the team decided to build an air-conditioned "practice bubble." The bubble, which is oddly both inflatable and hurricane-safe, allowed the team to practice away from the sun and mimic the conditions of a domed stadium. However, it didn't allow the players to mimic the conditions of playing outside in the baking Florida sun. The Dolphins used to have a big edge in early season home games because they were so accustomed to working through the humidity, but since the bubble was built they've gone 5-8 in such games.

NASCAR Refuels

nascar-topper.jpgOf all the major sports, auto racing is hands-down the worst for the environment. An event that involves hundreds of cars driving for several hours could only be topped by, say, the World Championship Triathlon of Tree Chopping, Gas Burning and Baby Seal Clubbing (coming this winter to ESPN2). However, stock cars have been taking steps to go greener. The IndyCar Series is racing on 100 percent ethanol, while the American LeMans series has switched to a 10 percent ethanol mixture (every little bit helps). NASCAR hasn't taken the plunge yet, but they're expected to. Of course, given that it took them a couple of decades to switch to unleaded fuels, I wouldn't hold your breath. There's no timeline on a NASCAR switch to alternative fuels, which would also require them to make over the cars to run effectively.

Super Bowl XL, as in XL degrees

The first time Detroit hosted the Super Bowl in 1982, ice storms hit the city and the wind chill effect made it feel like it was 27 below outside. That led the NFL to avoid cold-weather sites; with the exception of Minneapolis in 1992, the Super Bowl didn't go north again until 2006, when it returned to Detroit. Rather than fighting the supposedly inevitable winter storm that would hit the city, organizers decided to embrace it and turn Detroit into a winter wonderland. Instead, global warming threw the city for a loop with highs in the 40's and rain, not snow. A 28-foot-tall snow slide melted and the Motown Winter Blast had to cope with conditions that even made the fake snow melt. All of the intense planning that went into snow removal almost went to waste. It did snow on Super Bowl Sunday, but nowhere near what organizers were expecting, forcing them to scrap most of the snow-themed festivities around the city.

Buggy Baseball

joba bugs.jpgBlame it on the curse of Rocky Colavito, but the Cleveland Indians have gotten hit by global warming twice this year alone. During last week's anticipated series between the Indians and the Yankees, it was the non-roster players that ended up capturing the headlines: a swarm of bugs that set on the field like a plague of locusts in the eighth inning. They buzzed around the players and forced coaches to grab all the OFF they could find. Trying to battle the bugs, Yankee phenom Joba Chamberlain threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score. Ask any Yankees fan and they'll say they only lost the game, and the series, because of the bugs. The bugs in question, midges, seek out warm weather and usually can't be found in Cleveland in October, when temperatures dip. But the unseasonable weather meant the midges were still around during postseason baseball (where the April-like freezing temps are more the norm) and were attracted by the bright lights of the stadium, where they put their stamp on the path to the World Series.

Note: For more reading on global warming in sports, check out this excellent article from Sports Illustrated in March. Also, see this piece from Slate about which spectator sports are best for the environment.

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October 12, 2007 - 10:20am
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