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The Eco-Friendly Action at the Australian Open

The Eco-Friendly Action at the Australian Open

The Australian Open is a special part of the annual Aussie sporting calendar. It’s one of just four Grand Slam events on the global tennis calendar to take place each year. Additionally, that it’s first cab off the rank - and takes place during the Australian summer - means both locals and visitors to Oz from further afield always look forward to its offerings as the first landmark tennis event of the year, and one with terrific summery vibes that makes it a fantastic event to watch while around a BBQ or backyard pool for those who don’t attend in person. But while the Open is already rightly recognised as a leading event on the international tennis calendar, in recent years some terrific points have also been scored when it comes to pursuing the transition towards hosting a totally clean and green event.

The Path to Victory

Given there is no shortage of great green changes having been made by the Australian Open, it makes sense to go through the moves detailed in this article one at a time. So let’s do that now:

Scoring the First Points

In June 2019 Tennis Australia became the first Australian sporting organisation to commit to the United Nations Sports for Climate Change Action Framework. In accordance with the Framework, this means Tennis Australia committed to operate with the following 5 principles:

  1. Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility
  2. Reduce overall climate impact
  3. Educate for climate action
  4. Promote sustainable and responsible consumption
  5. Advocate for climate action through communication

The significance of signing up to this Framework - and being the first to do it - should not be understated. As the UN noted “Sport’s impact on our climate is complex and can be difficult to measure depending on the size of the organization and/or event. However, most sports organisations and fans would now acknowledge that sport’s contribution to climate change – through associated travel, energy use, construction, catering, and so on – is considerable.”

As a result, Tennis Australia being the first Australian sports organisation to take this step is indeed commendable, both for the positive action that has directly flowed from it in terms of what the organisation has done and in the discussion about hosting eco-friendly sporting events it generates more widely.

>Lighting the Way

In addition to the roof of Tennis HQ, rooftop solar panels have been installed on Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena, and Margaret Court Arena. Furthermore, at the ground level, solar-powered LED lights have been installed at various sites across Australian Open venues.

The generation of energy by rooftop solar systems during the day, and the more efficient usage of lighting during the night - and also the day in certain areas! - are massive steps in the right direction given the substantial energy use that necessarily occurs in big stadiums where the Australian Open matches are played.

The Grassroots Changes

In addition to the actions of leadership in Australian tennis signing up to the UN Framework, and the aforementioned infrastructure works, there’s been visible changes at the grassroots level too, the sort of changes that attendees can see and experience for themselves. 2019 saw the end of single-use plastic bags at the Australian Open. In turn, single-use plastic straws were earmarked for a phasing out, however biodegradable straws which could be provided on request were set to serve as a replacement. Furthermore, water bottle refill sites were introduced across the Australian Open that year, encouraging visitors to bring their own bottles.

Playing a Part at Home

Some thought on the part of organisers has clearly also gone into creating an avenue for those who cannot attend the Open to nonetheless still feel engaged with the efforts to make it a green event. The Aces for Oceans campaign involving Kia is a clear example of this. The AR game allows for tennis fans to play the game they love, and in doing so contribute to a good cause. Every time a player hits an ace in the game, plastic waste is removed off the court - and this has actual implications for the real world. Following on from the aces hit in the game, Kia will obtain ocean-bound plastic waste and see it recycled into tennis equipment, which will then be donated to the Rafa Nadal Foundation (Nadal appears in the game as the coach), and the Australian Tennis Foundation.

Making Australia a Champion on the Global Stage

The Australian Open’s endeavours here are important not only for the positive contribution it makes to the quest for a more sustainable event, but also for what it symbolises, and signals, to the nation and the wider world. Sport is at the core of the Australian identity. It is celebrated at home and widely recognised around the world.

By seeking to make the Australian Open a green operation, this tournament offers a proof of concept for how major sporting events can be held while minimising the impact it has on the environment. It also helps signal - while allowing for variables and greater challenges on the path to this between different sports - that the push to run clean and green events is not only well underway, but accordingly leaves other events in 2022 with a real need to get a move on if they’re not also seeking to do the same.

The Essential Role of Other Stakeholders

Melbourne has proven itself year after year to be a terrific host city of the Australian Open.

There is unfortunately a difficult reality surrounding it that means for all the endeavours of those involved to make it an outstanding event, ultimately other parties need to come to the table to ensure it continues to remain a great event in the years ahead. Recent years have seen an array of environmental issues have an impact on the Open. Of course, it’s true that many professional sporting events regularly have to deal with difficult weather, and in certain instances - such as a game of football being played in the rain - the weather conditions can add an exciting extra dimension to the competition.

But when these environmental factors are issues like soaring temperatures and climate change-linked bushfires which create air pollution, then there’s no doubt such problems can only be looked at as a hazard. Given the Australian Open has had a number of incidents due to extreme weather, it’s given rise to an argument that the Open may ultimately need to be moved to another period on the calendar in order to overcome issues like extreme temperatures. Obviously player safety - and that of all who attend the Open - must come first, so in the years ahead it may perhaps indeed become necessary to see the Open shifted to another time on the calendar.

But the reality is this shows why stronger action on climate change is critical - and critical now.

IIf future generations of Australians want to continue to be able to enjoy an iconic Aussie summer event in the summer, then it requires more action from national leaders to not only do the right thing by the environment but also do the right thing for our enjoyment. It’s hoped this is in mind of any leaders who decide to pop down to an Australian Open with a view to getting a quick photo op done, that tries to show they love sport like regular Aussies. If they really love it they’ll surely be keen to get to work right after and start pushing harder for real action on climate change.

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