Politicians who deny the obvious reality that the climate is constantly changing are few and far between. Tensions do arise when the reasons behind the changes become the topic of conversation. Such disagreement around that point does not require exploration on Soccerscene.com.au.
However, what does require some though and reflection is the decision to play Australia’s top tiers of both men’s and women’s football during the summer months. It was a no-brainer when it came to the W-League, with a mirroring of the men’s competition and the potential for double-headers and cross promotion informing the decision.
Therefore, the powers at be made the logical choice to play the elite women’s competition at the same time of year as the men, amidst the stifling summer heat that appears to only intensify as the decades roll by.
Australian men’s football had its origins in the winter months until the decision was made to shift the then NSL competition to summer in the season of 1989/90. It was a dramatic change and one that many saw as having great potential due to football avoiding direct competition with the nation’s more established and ingrained winter codes.
Others feared the move, the heat and the potential cultural change that it would bring to fans of clubs that had existed in a steady winter routine within which they were quite comfortable.
The thinking behind the move was not only to disassociate football from other domestic codes. Matching the Australian season with European competitions would eventually see transfer windows align and allow for greater fluidity of movement for players.
Furthermore, international windows would coincide, Australia could compete in future World Cups without detrimental impact on the local scene and quite ironically, the thinking was that fans would enjoy matches in more pleasant weather, outside the wet and sodden coldness of winter.
How the thinking on weather and climate has turned since the final days of the 20th Century.
Increasingly hot conditions over the last 10 years and a clear rise in average temperatures has led many to call for a return to winter for both the A and W Leagues. Those voices cite health risks and potential disaster for players, officials and fans.
Drinks breaks and some flexibility in kick-off times exist as contingency plans, however, 40 degree Celsius days that ease off to 35 degree evenings offer players little respite from the heat. Most importantly, the standard of football is tested under such conditions and there is an obvious and negative impact to the product in both leagues.
Season 2019/20 has had the added challenge of smoke and ash from the bush fires that have ravaged the eastern and southern parts of the nation. Adelaide United fans called out the A-League and FFA after those with the power to alter a kick-off time were reluctant to do so.
The Red’s active support group threatened to boycott matches should the situation arise again.
Fans have also stayed away in Sydney and Melbourne with a throat scratching haze decreasing the pleasure and enjoyment of attending a football match. The challenge of boarding public transport in extreme late afternoon conditions to ensure arrival at the venue for a 7 or 7:30pm kick-off has also led to many staying away.
An increasing number of fans of the A and W Leagues have been content to watch matches at a local hotel or in their own home.
Whilst an outlier season of heat and oppressive conditions might not be enough to convince many that a move back to winter is required. The consistency of temperature increases and a sustained pattern has many starting to think twice about when Australian football should be played.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has found that 2019 was indeed the warmest year on record. The data also confirms that all states and the Northern Territory experienced both maximum and minimum temperature records and rainfall across the country was 40% below average levels.
It made for the driest year on record and led to much of the dry fuel that saw more than 11 million hectares destroyed across the nation.
That pattern has seen summer footballers roast in the highest average decade (2010-2019) of mean temperatures on record. 2019 saw maximum temperatures reach 2.09 degrees above historical averages and the current summer stands to be another in a long line of record breaking seasons.
In my view, Australian football works better in the summer months, for many of the reasons outlined above. However, should such weather patterns persist, as the experts suggest they will, further questions around the viability of holding football competitions in Australia during summer will continue to be asked.
There will indeed be a tipping point and player health and safety will potentially be the deal breaker that eventually sees matches postponed until conditions are conducive to playing football.
Playing the game in summer had immense upside but a changing climate looms as a serious threat to the move.