17 December 2019

Is Canberra sport ready for the impact of the drought?

| Tim Gavel
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The big dry

Have we done enough to drought-proof our sports fields? Photo: Tim Gavel.

In the wake of the Millennium Drought from 2001 to 2009 many Canberra sports moved to future-proof their facilities for the advent of a similar dry period in the future.

Sooner than expected, the current drought is already hitting Canberra’s sports grounds.

With an extremely hot and dry summer forecast, it won’t be getting better any time soon and the impact could be telling on winter sports in 2020.

During the Millennium Drought there was concern about player safety, especially in contact sports. Golf courses were also greatly affected and took years to recover.

But sports organisations, along with the ACT Government, worked hard over the past decade to future-proof grounds with new, more drought-resistant grass, and the construction of synthetic grass playing facilities.

Not all sports, though, can be played on synthetic grass and not all sports grounds have been improved to weather a drought, but the improvements, on the whole, have been significant. It means that Canberra sport is better prepared than it has been in the past for the drought, but there will still be an impact on many grounds.

Again, safety will be the most pressing concern. Not just because of the harder, more unforgiving playing surfaces but the effect of extreme heat on players. This was a concern last summer, and with a forecast of hotter conditions ahead, there’s no doubt it will again become an issue.

One suggested solution is to move sports indoors but the reality is that sports that are traditionally played outdoors are not suited for indoors, unless modified in ways that remove the expansiveness of the activity.

In the future though, could our weather conditions lead to more people opting to play an indoor sport such as basketball over summer?

The strain on facilities would be enormous. Basketball court space is already stretched to meet the number of teams wanting to play.

Capital Football, in planning their new headquarters at Forde, is looking to build indoor facilities alongside the traditional outdoor grounds.

Other sports organisations will also need to respond to changes in weather patterns. The need pales into insignificance when compared with the dire circumstances faced by rural communities, but the impact of sport on the psyche of a city such as Canberra can’t be underestimated.

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My kids play soccer at Harrison playing fields, and even over the winter months there has been visible drying out of the fields. I am not sure that the grass fields at Harrison are going to cope too well with a sustained dry period.

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