Almanac AFLW: The heat is on (and here comes the rain again)*

I’m wary to use a phrase which seems to make some people go into a state of battle-ready apoplexy  (‘climate change’) so I will simply ask beloved readers to have a look at any Bureau of Meteorology chart for the last fifteen or so years to show the trend in summer heat conditions that the southern states have experienced (or talk to your local horticulturist who will tell you what they are already seeing, and planning around for the future).  I am not going to posit any controversial model or theory, but simply note that temperature graphs in recent years show that we are experiencing a clear trend of more very hot days (‘extreme’), and more extended strings of very hot days in the summer months.  I’m not a data analysis expert – but I can spot a fairly obvious trend when I see one – which we can choose to ignore, or respond to (or as Mum would say … ‘Just be sensible dear’ – advice I didn’t always take of course).

 

There is nothing to indicate that this trend of more extreme conditions won’t continue into the future – whether we like it or not, and whether we ‘believe’ in climate change or not.   Stuff’s happening – so let’s think about how we can manage these conditions sensibly.  We, of course, also have this trend occurring at the same time that the new AFLW competition has been scheduled for the summer months – even though footy has evolved as a winter game.  I personally think there are some very real benefits in having the women’s game at a different time of the year to the men’s, but we have to be realistic and innovative about how that can be managed, both from the players’ and spectators’ perspectives.

 

For the New South Wales and Queensland based teams (and for games located in Darwin or Alice Springs) the issue is also very real – a summer schedule already puts these games into tropical conditions not experienced in the winter months, and if we add in the effects of climate change (sorry), we are conducting an interesting experiment with the AFLW – which we can grumble about, or we can grasp the opportunity it creates to look at doing some innovative and constructive planning that will be required for both the AFLW and any summer sports to continue to be played safely in this country.  (It was stated this year by tennis administrators who have noticed this issue, that the Oz Open will soon be untenable for the players in its current format unless some changes are made to venues or schedules).

 

Apart from considering the risk to AFLW players’ welfare (the most important thing), it’s also a major commercial risk – if games are regularly abandoned in coming seasons due to heat or storm conditions, it will cost the AFL and the clubs hugely in broadcast and sponsorship revenue, and will put the entire competition in a very vulnerable position.

 

Most major corporations, businesses, and governments in Australia (and globally) have rationally incorporated the changing weather conditions into their overall risk management practices – the AFL and the clubs need to do the same, by including it as a criteria in their scheduling, and in the design of new venues and retrofits.  Its called being a bit strategic – not rocket surgery as they say.

 

There may be some strategizing going on in the corridors of the AFL which hasn’t been made public, but the only visible action to date has been to put a ‘heat policy’ in place for the AFLW, including longer quarter time breaks, and not playing when it’s over a certain temperature (doesn’t take humidity into account which the health experts say is a critical factor in the body’s ability to cope with heat stress).  The policy is a good start, but a fairly thin strategy to address an increasingly significant issue that needs a more comprehensive and longer-view approach.   How can we respond sensibly to ensure the players’ wellbeing, the crowd’s enjoyment of the game, and the growth of the competition are a joy to behold ‘going forward’ (as they say in the classics).   Here are a few thoughts to kick off –

 

Venues designed or retrofitted to allow for use over summer

 

All new builds or retrofits to major venues should have the climate comfort lens thrown over the designs when they are being done, to make sure they’re fit-for-use in hotter summers for active sports.  There’s actually an Australian Standard (the engineers’ bible) that provides guidance to asset designers and builders to maximise the assets’ resilience to longer heatwaves and more extreme weather conditions – and to ensure it is usable and comfortable into the future.  It’s just good long term planning which takes into account the trend of changing conditions and ensures a great experience for players and crowds alike.  Rather than expecting all venues to meet the need, investment can be focused strategically on one or two ovals in each State for specific use for AFLW e.g. Princes Park in Melbourne, or Norwood Oval in Adelaide.  I understand that money is about to be spent at Princes Park, so it just means making sure that hotter conditions and summer scheduling is considered as a priority in the design of those refurbishments.

 

It’s also important to build adaptable venues (e.g. with a roof, and/or stadiums that can be adapted to varied crowd sizes by closing off sections to the public).  From a crowd perspective its critical to have permanent or temporary (for the game only) shade or rain protection structures in the non-grandstand parts of the oval.  Trees and greenery (where possible) is also a good option – as these not only provide shade but also create little micro-climates that cool the area by a couple of degrees.

 

Scheduling

 

I think AFLW should become primarily a crepuscular game – Isn’t that a beautiful word ? – it means creatures that do their best work and play at twilight or dawn (deer, wallabies, owls, etc) as an adaptation for survival. **   Twilight games have to become the standard – not only for cooler and more comfortable conditions for all in the summer heat, but also to get the crowds there.  So many girls and young women are now playing footy themselves on Saturday afternoons (yay) that they can’t get to arvo AFLW games – which has had a noticeable effect on crowd sizes in Adelaide this year (as D. Brown has previously noted in these annals).  I know that scheduling of sport is a multi agenda and dastardly complex thing, and driven mainly by TV programming (which is important) – but again a strategic and collaborative way of working on this stuff must be possible when we’re talking major health and welfare concerns, major investments in venues, and the growth of a major participatory sport and associated markets.

 

The AFLW players have said that their best option on game day when playing in dire conditions is to ‘try not to think about it’.  To ‘keep calm and carry on’ might be commendable as an interim option – but heat isn’t one of those effects that can be pushed away through sheer bravery or determination – heat stress can cause significant short and long-term damage to the body and brain.  It’s not one of those injuries you can push through with a strong mind, which players may be able to do with specific muscle or other injuries – heat must be treated with respect.  And we must treat the players and patrons with respect, address these issues in a strategic way, and ensure the best sporting experience possible for all (‘going forward’).

 

*Acknowledgement to Glenn Frey and the Eurythmics, who saw it coming (unlike Libby Birch).

 

** Reminds me of Artemis who was the ancient Greek goddess of hunting and the wilderness. She was also a goddess of childbirth, and the protector of the girl child – often depicted at dusk dressed in a knee-length dress with a hunting bow and a quiver of arrows (there’s your B&F outfit sorted for this year Daisy).

Comments

  1. Logical and realistic Verity.
    “There may be some strategising going on in the corridors of the AFL which hasn’t been made public …”
    Yes, it would be good to get regular updates from the Lords of the Docklands as no word infers little effort and care.
    The AFL must look into this situation before there is a tragedy and that is a real possibility in certain conditions.
    This must be the case for 2019 as the fixture is likely to stay in the same time period with only 10 teams. It will most likely start on the first weekend in February and go into the first 4 weeks of the AFLM season. If it is to impinge on the men, then why not have a play offs as well – 1st v 4th and 2nd v 3rd before the GF?

    Yet by 2020 with 14 teams in the competition, it is time to get serious and play home and away games – each team playing each other twice. This will set the fixturing up in preparation for 18 teams in the years beyond. The fixture of 2020, I suggest, ends with the Grand Final in the last week of August. The current ‘bye’ weekend before the AFLM finals of September. Backward plan from the last weekend in August to commence in … February.

    Too long with home and away games? If we revert to play each team once, then it’s a starting month of June. Many of the games can be fixtured in either style to coincide with their men’s games – play before or after.

    Bottom line – stop playing a winter game in summer.

  2. Anne Cahill Lambert says:

    Great article, thanks Verity.

    Once the AFLW starts charging an entry fee, spectators are going to demand more.

    I’m dreading the Collingwood v Crows match at Olympic Park Oval in two weeks’ time – I’ve only just recovered from last year’s match at the same venue …

  3. E.regnans says:

    Well played, V Sanders.
    Given that it’s probably reasonable to assume that the AFL is seeking to colonise the year-round calendar, February footy in southern Australia may be a new normal.
    Given extreme weather conditions that are known to occur at these times & places, crepuscular games seem the best alternative.
    And given the effects of human induced climate change, any artificial lighting must be powered by renewable energy.
    Love crepuscular.

  4. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thanks Verity. Great thoughts, as always. The heat has seen me withdraw from many a game this year. That and lack of seating. I find myself going to the Ikon Park games because it’s easiest. No seating or shade at Casey, same with the practice ground at Collingwood. I also think it needs more night games at central locations to make it easier for older fans. Would love to be hopping on a train and watching Melbourne based games at Docklands. Seating, toilets, public transport. Protection from the weather and not having to drive. All benefits. Like the idea of lights being from renewable energy.

    I need some of that!

  5. Verity Sanders says:

    ER thanks ( and you’re a wise man ! ) Most commercial builds or refits these days incorporate solar panels or similar into any new roof structures as standard. A bit more expensive to do initially, but the payback period is usually quite short, given the lower power costs ongoing. Throw a Tesla battery into the mix and you’re laughing. ( Mr Musk is throwing them all over the place at the minute). Ikon Park (refit) could be the examplar of the first major footy venue to be powered sustainably ? Now that would be an icon, and a strong statement by the AFL.
    While looking for their heat policy, I tried to find the AFL’s general environment policy – couldn’t find it on their website – if they have one its not public, which is odd for a large organisation. Perhaps its a policy that each Club covers off on individually – but an overall policy position from the AFL would make sense, and drive good practice such as maximising the use of renewables wherever possible.

    …. and Dave H. – If the women’s schedule started in November, they could have 15 -18 rounds in by the end of March by my reckoning – plenty of time for a good season and a few finals, even with 14 teams – and with a couple of weeks off over Christmas and New Year. (They’d have to be properly paid etc of course – and have venues that are suitable for summer footy)

  6. E.regnans says:

    Ahh, and yesterday’s assumption of colonising the year-round calendar is given substance in today’s Age:

    “The [super] panel will oversee AFL X and AFLW as well as the AFL. One of its priorities will be to organise an ideal schedule, across all three leagues, so that Australian football dominates the sporting calendar year round…”
    https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/super-power-takes-control-at-the-afl-20180307-p4z3be.html

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