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'Fans Should Be Worried': How Aussie Sports Are Scrambling To Play With Climate Change

Australia's biggest sporting codes are rushing to implement new rules around smoke, fires and extreme heat, as they respond to the challenges raised by climate change.

The Australian Institute of Sport has called on sports nationwide to quickly respond to the "unprecedented" conditions, and expressed concern over "changing conditions" around heat, smoke and weather.

Already this summer, Australia has seen a Big Bash League game in Canberra between the Sydney Thunder and the Adelaide Strikers abandoned in December; visiting tennis professionals left enraged after being told to keep playing as Melbourne choked under thick smoke; and footy teams relocating their training bases to escape the threat of fires and poor air quality.

Former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell said players and fans "should be worried about climate change" -- citing matches interrupted by smoke and heat.

"There are other sports that are going to be affected," he said, in a video from the Australian Conservation Foundation. The ACF last year warned the Boxing Day Test match may have to be moved to a different time of year, due to heat risks.

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Greenpeace Australia has been running a campaign around the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne, claiming 2020 could be "the last" held in summer, due to extreme heat conditions.

In 2018, on-court temperatures reached 69 degrees celsius. This year, players complained bitterly about smoke conditions on-court. Slovenian player Dalila Jakupovic suffered a coughing fit and retired from a qualifying game, while another match featuring Maria Sharapova was cancelled.

While some sports have had air quality and extreme heat policies for some time, others have had to rush to implement new guidelines.

Many codes are relying on the recently-released AIS 'Smoke Pollution and Exercise' guidelines, unveiled in mid-December as the bushfire crisis escalated, to build their own individual policies.

"The recent bushfires and subsequent smoke pollution in parts of Australia has been unprecedented, and as such there was no readily available resource to assist individual athletes and sports to navigate the unique conditions," an AIS spokesperson told 10 daily.

Smoke during the Thunder-Strikers game, which was eventually abandoned. Image: AAP

The guidelines set out the "increased risk" faced by high-level athletes in smoky conditions, due to the intensity of their activity. Warnings are outlined based on air quality readings for the PM2.5 particulate matter, very small particles found in smoke.

At the second-lowest level -- 25-50 micrograms per cubic metre -- the AIS warns people sensitive to air pollution "may need to reduce prolonged high intensity endurance exercise" like cycling or distance running.

The AIS guidelines. Image: AIS

At levels over 150, "most individuals" should avoid outdoor activity. In "organised high level sport", the AIS recommends medical staff and officials consider cancelling the event. Above 200, it's recommended "everyone significantly cut back on outdoor physical activities".

A Sheffield Shield cricket match in Sydney in December continued after air quality readings reached 170. Air quality in Melbourne and Canberra has reached above 600 several days this year already.

Canberra's Parliament House shrouded in smoke on January 5. Image: AAP

10 daily contacted some of Australia's biggest sporting codes to gauge their response to bushfires, smoke, air quality and other climate change-related events.

Football Federation Australia said it was working on a formal air quality policy, but that the organisation -- and the A-League competition -- currently uses a combination of AIS and Asian Football Confederation guidelines.

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"When the Air Quality Index is below 150 the match goes ahead," an FFA spokesperson told 10 daily.

"Between 151 and 200 a decision to play is made in consultation with the teams doctors and the League management. Above 200 the match is postponed or rescheduled."

A fan wears a mask at an Australian Open practice session in Melbourne on January 14. Image: AAP

Several W-League games have been affected by smoke this year, with at least one in Canberra cancelled.

10 daily understands the final FFA policy is not far from release.

The FFA's heat policy allows for matches to be delayed or postponed when temperatures exceed 28 degrees. Drinks breaks are also allowed in each half of a game when ambient temperatures exceed 31 degrees.

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On Wednesday, Super Rugby shared new guidelines around air quality and smoke, just days before the new season begins. It comes after the ACT Brumbies were forced to relocate their pre-season training base to Newcastle in NSW, due to smoke from Canberra fires.

South African, New Zealand and Australian Rugby (SANZAR) boss Andy Marinos said the new rules came in response to an "extraordinary summer in Australia".

Cricket fans wore masks at the abandoned BBL game. Image: AAP

The SANZAR policy isn't based on one measure, but "numerous factors" like the air quality index, weather forecasts, and symptoms present in players.

"Each match will have a specified Air Quality Assessment Panel", SANZAR said, to make decisions about whether games would proceed.

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Rugby Australia pointed 10 daily to World Rugby heat guidelines, which say training and games, "if practical", should be held in temperatures below 30 degrees.

The National Rugby League did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Australian Football League told 10 daily it had a heat policy for the AFLW women's competition, held through the hotter months of February and March. The men's competition begins in late March and runs until August.

The AFLW competition has specific heat policies. Image: AAP

"The format of AFLW matches have been designed with heat as a significant consideration," an AFL spokesperson told 10 daily.

The games have been designed with 15 minute quarters, with a 16-minute halftime break and 6.5 minute breaks at quarter and three-quarter time. The number of interchanges is unlimited and clubs are "encouraged" to give players "adequate rest" each quarter.

The AFL spokesperson did not specifically list the league's air quality rules, but said the "AFL medical team has shared with clubs best practice guidelines in relation to smoke pollution and exercise." Several AFL teams have moved training to indoor venues in recent weeks, due to smoke issues.

"Clubs know to take caution, whether training is held or not is at their discretion," the spokesperson said.

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The AIS said it would keep supporting sporting codes to develop responses to "unprecedented" conditions, saying organisations and players "must be adaptable to changing conditions."

"The response to the recent poor air quality as a result of the bushfires has been a great example of how sport has adapted to the unprecedented conditions," the spokesperson said.