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Rugby, Protecting our Sports Environment.


Protecting our sports environment

Cold, dark, wet and tired, these four words can be used to sum up a standard Tuesday and Thursday training night for most of the rugby season in the UK. Waterlogged pitches resulting in 2 inches or more of boggy mud more suited to a slip and slide than a pitch on which to play rugby. These conditions are usually sandwiched between spells of bone dry and dusty grounds, hardened by the persistent sun and lack of moisture, together these playing conditions are an example of the sporting environment a rugby player will experience throughout the season.

Having played rugby for almost 15 seasons continuously, which included 2 seasons abroad, one in Australia and the other in Spain, I had become accustomed to a variety of playing conditions such as those above. These conditions required players, coaches, as well as training and game days scheduling to adapt to mitigate potential health risks

Playing rugby in the Northern Hemisphere means that you will experience being out on the pitch in all four seasons. Kicking off pre-season in the height of the summer, these are the glory days, you’re feeling good, back with the boys after a couple of months off, and if you’re lucky – chucking the ball around on a well-manicured pitch with around two inches of soft grass which took the impact of a tackle beautifully. If you’re not so lucky, and more than likely playing in the lower leagues, you might be welcomed by a ground heavily beaten by the sun and lack of water, with patches in the grass where the ground has been unable to regrow in time for the new season. Nevertheless, you’re excited to be back out onto the pitch and looking forward to getting stuck into the next season.


Summer social, rugby 7s, green gazelles, London, vegan rugby

After about 6 games there is a looming acceptance that these fine rugby playing days will be coming to an end, as the trees shed their leaves, flood lights get clicked on for training nights and where the temperature drops to the point where pre training touch becomes essential in staying warm. Not too far behind is the rain, when I was younger, I was never fazed by the cold or the rain, to get to training I had to walk around 2 miles each way, and even if it was hammering down with close to freezing temp, I would head out without fail. While I wasn’t fazed by the weather, it did ultimately have an impact in our ability to train and play rugby as the rain would create pitches which resembled something similar to a bog, especially if the team had been training on the ground in the week. There were glimpses of grass in spots, usually where the wingers and fullbacks were positioned! But as a forward, I was more familiar with the mud pits.


These condition made it difficult to play, the elusive mud drenched ball slipping through the hands, players covered from head to toe made it a struggle to differentiate between team mate and opposition. On top of this when a pitch was particularly soft due to excess rain, finding a firm grip on the ground became a struggle resulting in a loss of control when getting around the pitch. If you were unfortunate enough to find yourself at the bottom of a ruck in this weather, you could find yourself in a tricky position.

These conditions ultimately led to training being cancelled and games getting called off, due to unplayable conditions and risk to players safety. This was compounded further when the frost set in and froze the ground resulting in the turned up mud freezing into solid edges... Thinking about this now makes me content with my union playing days being over! While I make these conditions light hearted, there was a real impact on the playing season, and even though risk of player injury was higher, there was an expectation from players and coaches for us to get on with it.

protecting our sports environment. muddy rugby pitch. climate change in sports. flooding

Playing rugby is Australia was a little different, while the playing season started towards the end of their summer, the weather condition meant that it was still almost always hot and dry. Kicking off the season with a tour to Armidale for a 10s tournament was my first experience of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, hydration was essential, as it always is, but a bigger emphasis from the coaches out there. While one of the support staff was walking around with water bottles, another was holding an industrial sized bottle of suncream ready to be called into action at any moment. It was about half way through the game, I was positioned at the back of the scrum, down on one knee before we engaged and I just remember looking at my arms and thinking that I am seriously burning up here, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before, I almost wanted to get off the pitch as I felt so uncomfortable. Luckily one of the coaches must have seen this in my face and brought me off shortly, where I then headed to the nearest bit of shade that I could find… It was seriously hot.

Looking back, I don’t think that I could have played if the temperature was any higher, but the worrying thing is that players are now being exposed to record high temperatures during the playing seasons, which can result in players being at higher risk of sunstroke, dehydration and heat exhaustion. While these conditions affect the payers health, the challenges go further with pitches at threat from extreme weather events leading to both drought and flooding. Pitches exposed to drought result in dry and hard pitches which offer no protection to players involved in tackles, and flooded or water logged pitches create dangerous playing condition, leading to games being cancelled, which also affects the wider community as well as the club who may depend on income through ticketing and food & beverage purchases.

Year on year we are seeing new temperature records around the globe, with these temperatures comes and increased risk of severe weather patterns as well as changes in fire regimes; the way in which fire spreads, it’s intensity and frequency. The wildfires seen in Australia have made for stark viewing, and a reminder of the environmental devastation that these climate related fires can cause. Another factor of these fires is the impact to air quality, where cities can be taken over by plumes or smokes leading to heavily polluted air, as recently seen in New York due to a wildfire in Canada. Outdoor sports in Australia have had to enforce air quality protocols to mitigate the health risk from fire pollution, leading to teams needing to move their training location to avoid the haze of smoke baring down on them.

Other climate related issues are affecting some of the most exciting nations to step foot on a rugby pitch, in the pacific Tonga, Samoa and Fiji are at serious risk from sea level rise, a result of melting glaciers and rising sea temperature. You can grasp the full situation facing the rugby world in this article put together by the Climate Reality Project


These are just some of the challenges facing the rugby community around the globe, when you hear the saying “saving the planet” this also means “protecting our sports environment".

 

This Summer I played at the Summer Social rugby 7s tournament at Richmond athletic ground with Green Gazelles rugby club. 7s season is awesome, you get together with a bunch of lads, some who you may be meeting for the first time, the sun is shining, and you get to play a quick game of 7 mins half. The best thing about playing for the Green Gazelles is that they are more than a 7s team, they are a community who are on a mission to create awareness around sustainability in sports, and that you can thrive on the rugby pitch on a plant based diet, which happens to be the best diet for reducing your environmental impact. And before you say, no they do not discriminate against players who choose to consumer animal products, in fact they welcome them in with the objective of exposing them to products and brand such as Vivo Life, a plant based sports supplement company who supply the team with high quality pre and post-game fuel, or through the kit that they wear which is made partly from recycled material.



Interview, vegan rugby

The efforts of the Green Gazelles have not gone unnoticed, where in 2022 the BBC covered the team at the Summer Social, championing the clubs efforts in creating change on the pitch while generating awareness of the climate crisis and need for sports to take the lead in bringing about change. Check out the BBC coverage here

We caught up with Green Gazelles founder Brendon Bale to ask him questions on protecting our sports environment and what we can do about it.

Q1. How did you first become involved in rugby, and what aspects of the sport make it special to you personally?


“I started at the young age of 6! Rugby for me is life, almost all of the attributes taught are skills for everyday life! For me the team spirit and respect stand out most!”

Q2. Rugby often requires a significant amount of open space and natural playing fields. Can you share your thoughts on the importance of preserving these spaces for future generations of rugby players and outdoor enthusiasts?


“The sporting world is only just opening their eyes to how important caring for our environment is - I mean without stating states if we continue as we are Sport will be seriously impacted. Be it adverse weather impacting training or pitches flooding.”

Q3. As a rugby player, you've likely traveled to various locations for games and tournaments. Have you noticed any changes in environmental conditions or landscapes during your travels that have made you more aware of climate change-related issues?

“Yeah - travel is one of the largest areas we need to focus on and improve. For me, I would look at weather - the standard season for 7s is impacted here in U.K. with August being almost unplayable due to severely dry and hard pitches.”

Q4: Extreme weather events, including heavy rain and flooding, can impact sports events like rugby matches. How do you think climate change-related weather disruptions could affect the sport, and what steps do you believe should be taken to address these challenges?

“We have already seen so much impact to sport through weather globally - everyone needs to take it seriously and potentially adjust how we go about hosting events and the timing. It’s only going to get worse, so a United community is needed more than ever in all walks of sport!”

Q5: Many athletes have used their platform to raise awareness about environmental issues. In your opinion, how can rugby players and the sports community as a whole contribute to the fight against climate change and promote sustainable practices in sports?


“As a whole community we need to align and ignite new initiatives to encourage behavior change, incentivize Clubs or Players turning green and a larger PR campaign to encourage fans to adapt their lifestyles through supporting their clubs! I feel at Green Gazelles Rugby Club we are trying to lead on this - more to follow too with the Big Green Clash in 2024. I’m also a strong supporter of the likes of Jamie Farndale leading from the front in rugby.”



Ultimately the Green gazelles are contributing to protecting the future of rugby so that we can continue playing the sports we love safely now, and into the future. To find our how you can get involved head to there website www.greengazellesrugbyclub.com or drop them a message on social media https://www.instagram.com/greengazellesrugby/


Thanks for reading, if you have a question or have experienced similar conditions, then please leave a comment as we'd love to hear from you.




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