BUDAPEST: Athletics faces an uncertain future in the face of the changing climate, with the sport’s head Sebastian Coe warning on Friday that athletes are already suffering and some member federations’ countries might not even exist in the future.
Nearly 80% of athletes surveyed by World Athletics said they are seriously concerned about the climate crisis, and some 75% said their competition or training has already been affected, Coe said on the eve of the world championships.
In a summer that has seen wildfires raging, record-high temperatures across southern Europe, and relentless flooding in Asia, the World Athletics president said sports federations cannot rely on governments to avert the climate crisis.
“Where would I start?” the twice-Olympic champion said at a press conference on Friday.
“I genuinely don’t think governments are going to meet any of the targets that are being identified. And this is very much a personal view, I’m not speaking on behalf of World Athletics. It’s something that I have felt very strongly about for a long time.
“Constituent groups like sport are going to have to figure this out for themselves, because I don’t think we can rely on governments to remotely get to grips with what is going to be a massive shift in reality in the next few years.
“There are countries in our federation that will probably not be in existence in the next 20 years because of rising sea levels.”
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon and race-walking events were moved 800km north to Sapporo to avoid a repeat of the 2019 world championships in Doha, where numerous athletes succumbed to the heat and dropped out of distance events.
Rising temperatures also forced the 10,000m event to be rescheduled at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon in 2021.
“The temperature started out mid-30s, by the time I left those championships it had got to 44 – and that’s the relatively equable climate of Oregon,” Coe said.
He added that scheduling competitions, particularly for endurance events, at times of the year when temperatures are more favourable is a consideration.
Scheduling the 2025 worlds for mid-September in Tokyo will hopefully mean high temperatures are not as big a threat.
“We have a challenge everywhere we look. The welfare of the athletes for me always needs to be primary,” Coe said. “It’s not beyond the wisdom of all of us to figure this out. But this is a challenge that isn’t going to go away.
“Are there countries that we’re not going to be able to go to?” he added.
“Climate change is affecting everybody. Whether it’s forest fires, flooding, landslides, we’ve got problems here and it’s not limited to those areas that we were instinctively having to figure out 20 or 30 years ago. It’s on our doorstep.”