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2030 World Cup: A heated challenge amid rising temperatures

Global warming could make the 2030 Men's Soccer World Championship held in Madrid a difficult competition.

By Ground report
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Global temperature records shattered in November 2023: Reports

The official Madrid thermometer oscillated between maximums of 39ºC and minimums of 26ºC between July 17 and 19, 2023. Spain was experiencing one of the two heat waves of the month, accompanied by other "two notable warm episodes".

"Very warm" was how we could describe July, as the temperature was 1.2ºC above average. These summer dates, specifically, coincided with the chosen days to host the final of the 2030 Men's Soccer World Championship. The likely venue? The Santiago Bernabéu stadium in Madrid.

The not-so-favourable climate outlook doesn't support holding a football championship in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in the summer of 2030 similar to the one FIFA just awarded. The amassed evidence of the current temperature changes in these countries and the projected future trends suggest that the World Cup could become a gruelling competition due to global warming. Temperatures are already escalating and they won't ease in seven years.

climate future of cities in 2050

A few years ago, in 2019, a study by the Crowther Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School showed a glimpse of the climate future of cities in 2050: Madrid would be as hot as it is now in Fez (Morocco) and Barcelona, ​​that of Adelaide ( Australia). Lisbon would be like Perth, Casablanca and Rabat would be like Tripoli and Marrakech would withstand the temperatures of Bir Lelhu, already in the heart of Western Sahara. That is the path that is already being taken.

David Goldblatt — Sociologist specialized in sporting events

At the same time, the Climate Impact Lab has created a world map where the expected temperatures can be seen as the effect of global warming progresses. For Spain, it indicates that, in the decades 2020-2039, the average temperature in June-July-August would be 23ºC. The average thermometer for this summer of 2023 has been 23.4ºC (1.3ºC more than normal).

With this average – which takes into account the maximums, the minimums, the heat peaks and the cooler nights and places – there has been a season of daily hot flashes and torrid nights. The same map attributes an average heat of 25ºC to Morocco, with what that entails.

Sociologist specialized in sport, David Goldblatt explains, “In an already abnormal world due to climate change, there will be no normal sport, but I believe the world of sport is still oblivious of what’s happening.” Goldblatt, who researches sports history and politics, goes on to say, “It seems a catastrophe must occur before change happens”. "Athletes' lives are at risk with the rising temperatures. Remember the incident of the Tokyo marathon and its relocation. The world of sports leaders is witnessing climate change right before their eyes, yet they are out of touch with reality", he states.

A scientific blind spot

Climate change is “an existential threat”, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls it, or “the greatest threat that modern humans have faced", as naturalist David Attenborough described it in front of the UN Security Council. “Surprisingly, it has received relatively little attention in the field of sports science,” explains German researchers Sven Schneider and Hans Mücke.

The WWF-France organization has tried to fill part of this gap: “All sports have the same prerequisite, which is adequate weather conditions and temperatures, and above 32ºC, the practice of sports is inadvisable because we consider that the health of the athletes professionals and amateurs put themselves in danger.”

Above 32ºC, practicing sports is not recommended because we consider that the health of professional and amateur athletes is put at risk.

WWF-France

Heat has severely impacted top-level sporting events, causing many players and spectators to drop out due to heatstroke. Notably, the 2014 Aussie Open witnessed a heatwave, while high temps at the 2018 US Open necessitated rest breaks. The 2019 Iron Man in France had to be shortened due to 34ºC heat, and the Tokyo 2020 marathon was relocated due to Tokyo's intense summer.

“It is difficult to predict the number of days in which it will be impossible to practice sports,” concluded the work of WWF-France. But, in any case, according to Schneider and Mücke, “climate change has some direct consequences on sport caused by heat waves, ultraviolet radiation or extreme phenomena.”

Athletes are particularly affected by the increasing heat waves, which in Spain, have risen by three days every decade since 1975, according to Aemet. In 2023, there were 24 heat wave days, compared to 44 in 2022, and 36 in 2021, with an annual average of 33 since 2015. Comparatively, there were only 11 between 1975 and 1983. Furthermore, Morocco has seen an annual temperature rise of more than 1.7ºC.

Change of schedules?

In general, increased outdoor temperatures cause stress on the cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic systems, the work of German researchers continues. "The most determining factor is the temperature of the core (the area of ​​the abdominals, pelvis, etc.) because, if it exceeds 41.5ºC, it endangers the thermal regulation of the body."

"WWF-France has requested that competitions should occur when temperatures are less hot if the thermometer drops to 32ºC. In other words, they suggest adjusting the schedules to either the morning or late afternoon hours, when the temperatures are lower." It is the same prevention measure that German researchers advise: “Hold competitions during the early morning or late afternoon, in addition to including breaks during the activity.”

Among the candidates to host matches in the 2030 men's World Cup are Seville, Málaga, Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Las Palmas or Valencia. Bilbao, A Coruña and Vigo also want to have matches. In Morocco, the cities being considered are Marrakech, Rabat, Fez or Casablanca. In Portugal, they have offered Porto and Lisbon. The International Football Federation will decide on the chosen ones in 2026.

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