The impending heatwave for Queensland, hot (pardon the pun) on the heels of extreme weather across the whole continent, highlights the very real and present dangers to health from climate change.

Heat stress is a silent killer in vulnerable communities (the young, old, and ill), but can also affect the fit and healthy. There is a well-documented loss of life and increased hospitalisation during heatwaves and yet we continue to disregard this in terms of our behaviour over the Australian summer. Climate change is gradually increasing the scale of heat and humidity we face, and we need to start considering this in the way we behave, whether it is engaging in outdoor sports, leisure activities, work or hobbies during extreme heat events.

France's Gael Monfils showers himself with water during the recent Australian Open. Photo: AP

The risk for sports players, at least, is heat stress. No-one should be outdoors, much less playing professional sport, in extreme heat.

The Annual Climate Summary released by the Bureau of Meteorology recently revealed Australia has just experienced its third warmest year on record, with just two out of the last 17 years cooler than average. Queensland has just had its equal warmest year on record (with 2016), with records smashed across the state. The recent heat spikes across south-eastern Australia – including 47.3 degrees on January 7 in Penrith, the hottest place in the world that day – underscores the risk of worse extremes as global average temperatures continue to rise.

Company boards are responsible for ensuring climate change is accounted for in strategic and operational plans, or directors may be personally liable. While climate-related impacts may have been part of the discussion in relation to sporting codes, along with potential loss of revenue and contractual obligations for television, as yet not a lot has been done.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for sporting codes to show leadership around climate change and its potential impacts, given leadership is sorely lacking at a national political and policy level. By putting heat management plans into effect, and ensuring that the safety of players and spectators is a key consideration, perhaps others in the community, business and industry sectors will be shown the way.

In 2015, The Climate Institute released a report calling on sporting organisations to develop and apply heat policies to protect players and fans. It cited projections from CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology for significant increases in the number of days over 35 degrees across the nation by the end of the century.

With millions attending sporting events in Australia each year, exposure to heat during the summer months for players and fans of cricket, tennis, cycling, golf, rugby league and rugby union, and event such as triathlons, there is an important obligation for sporting codes to heed the advice of climate scientists and policymakers, and to respond.

Sue Cooke is Climate and Health Alliance Project Manager Queensland

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