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Coe: Athletics must adapt to the climate crisis or die

Coe: Athletics must adapt to the climate crisis or die

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe at a press conference at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. Image credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY

By Anders Lorenzen

Sebastian Coe, the head of World Athletics has warned that in the wake of the climate crisis athletics face an uncertain future and the sport needs to adapt. He explained that already now athletes are suffering and that some member federations’ countries might not exist in the future.

As the athletics world championships kick off this weekend, Coe said that 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.

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.

We can’t rely on governments to fix the climate problem

Coe, who was one of the key architects in bringing the Olympics to London in 2012 said: “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”, was his sombre view about the current state of climate politics.

He added: “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.”

In recent years, examples have piled up of how sporting events have been severely impacted by the rise of extreme weather due to climate change. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon and race-walking events were moved 800 kilometres 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 forced the 10,000 metres to be rescheduled at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon in 2021.

Coe explained that there needs to be more flexibility in how events are scheduled and that scheduling competitions, particularly for endurance events, at times of the year when temperatures are more favourable is a consideration. He mentioned that the scheduling of the 2025 worlds for mid-September in Tokyo will hopefully mean high temperatures are not as big a threat.

Coe said we need to take more consideration to the welfare of athletes: “We have a challenge everywhere we look. The welfare of the athletes for me always needs to be primary. 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.

Coe further outlined that climate change is indeed global and no region can escape it: “Climate change is affecting everybody. Whether it’s forest fires, flooding, or 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.”

The World Athletics Championships is held in Budapest, Hungary from the 19th to the 27th of August.

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