During Wimbledon fortnight the only weather which usually affects playing time is the British rain when tennis action is only possible on the covered courts. Conversely, the Australian Open is Melbourne is being affected by extreme heat prompting Croatian Ivan Dodig to declare that he thought he might die during his match. Dodig withdrew due to the effects of the heat, but can the conditions be judged fair for all competitors in this tournament.
There is the commonly accepted view that some sportsmen and women are able to perform much better than their opponents in extreme heat as is the case of African born athletes in long distance events. Similarly, there are others possessing a definite advantage when competing in colder or wetter conditions when maintaining warmth is considered a vital commodity in sustaining performances.
While some competitors in the Australian Open have mentioned the ‘inhumane’ conditions being faced by the players and an associated lack of sleep being experienced when recovering from the tough conditions, others such as Roger Federer have just accepted the extreme weather. He maintains that players should just ‘deal with it as it is the same for both sides’.
Whoever is correct in their views about the Australian heat, it is clear that drinking plenty water is a pre-requisite for any player and staying in the shade at appropriate times is a key element in maintaining some degree of normality.
Yet the entire discussion about performing in extreme heat also raises issues about staging the 2022 World Cup in Qatar where conditions are expected to be much more difficult than in Australia. At a time when there are serious considerations in the offing about moving the football matches to a winter schedule, the current complaints about 40 degree heat appear to be well-timed.
Temperatures in Qatar are forecasted to peak at about 50 degrees during a potential summer World Cup and although the local authorities have claimed that air conditioning will be available at the stadiums, there is still the problem of conducting training sessions in the stifling heat.
Conditions in Australia are expected to moderate by the end of the week allowing relatively more comfortable settings for both players and spectators alike, but the exceptional heat has prompted a high-profile debate about subjecting sports people to exceptional weather.
As Roger Federer has claimed, it is the same for everybody, but it only needs one serious casualty to cause great dismay among all affected parties.
Perhaps Qatar and FIFA should take heed of the fallout from the Australian Open and declare that a summer World Cup is a non-starter, a decision which may not be popular with many football clubs but which may be the only solution on humane grounds.
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