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How could climate change affect sporting events risks?

By Karl Sawyer and Frederica Moore | July 6, 2022

How to deal with major sporting event risks - Wimbledon 2022.

2022 is the first year where major sporting events are at the fore again. Covid has provided many immediate changes to risk over the past couple of years. As we hopefully approach a more settled time there are key issues now and in the future around climate change and how these events can identify, quantify and manage these risks.

When looking at elite sport the atmosphere really does effect Sporting performance. When considering what could happen this may require large infrastructure or transitional change towards sustainability. Meanwhile as the climate becomes more volatile how do they best transfer some of these catastrophic risks.

How might a major sporting event look like in the future?

Climate change is having an increasing impact on our lives, including the sport we love to watch. With Wimbledon a staple British summertime favourite we challenged our climate specialists to explore what the future could look like. This blog summarises their key findings to on the impact climate change is going to have on the event from a physical and transitional risk perspective and how this can even impact the outcome of a tennis match.

Physical risks

There have been several instances of tennis tournaments not being finished due to adverse weather conditions, such as the 2011 Open de la Réunion, when all singles and doubles matches had to be cancelled, from the quarterfinals onwards, due to torrential rain and flooding at the venue in Réunion. During the US Open in 2004, when Federer played Andre Agassi, their whole five-set quarterfinal match was impacted by high winds. It had to be played over two days, as the gale-force winds and stormy weather stopped play on day one. The thrilling match, which was eventually won by Federer, has always been remembered as much for its extreme weather conditions as the tennis itself.

These examples illustrate the impact weather events can have on tennis matches and to forward predict the possibility of these will help to mitigate the risks involved. We have used 2 of our flagship tools in WTW to assess the climate and extreme events risk for All England Lawn Tennis Club and explain what this could mean for the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament in the years to come. Whilst in the medium term (2030) we expect limited change in the physical risks faced by Wimbledon, the impacts of climate change are likely to manifest on longer timescales (2050+).

Scorecard outlining Wimbledon’s present day climate risk.
Scorecard outlining Wimbledon’s present day climate risk.
Scorecard outlining the high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; 4˚C) by 2050.
Scorecard outlining the high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; 4˚C) by 2050.

So, what does this mean for the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament in the upcoming years?

Heat stress

Currently heat stress is considered a very low risk by 2050s under the high emissions scenario above, we can see the projected exposure move from very low to low risk. Hot summers are expecting to become more common. According to UKCP18 projections, the mean summer temperatures as well as the mean daily maximum in London could be up to 5°C higher than today (1981-2000) with the mean daily minimum being between 1 – 4°C higher by 2050.1

We have seen in previous years that heat can impact players and play has been paused, ball boys and ball girls have fainted, other grounds staff and spectators can also be affected. By 2050 it will be more likely that during the 2 weeks of the tournament, such hot days could occur. Playing tennis during a heatwave can be brutal, as heat radiates from a hard surface increasing the air temperature. A high temperature of 41°C would increase to 49°C on a tennis court with this heat radiation!2 The heat does not only put pressure on the players but also the tennis balls: a tennis ball is hollow, so during a heatwave the gas expands. This causes the ball to bounce higher. The heat also increases the speed of the game as an elevated temperature makes the ball skid across the court’s surface faster. As well as the impact on players, temperature extremes can affect the way the tennis ball reacts. Heat not only puts increased pressure on the players but also the ball. The pressure inside the ball increases, it bounces better and fractionally increases string tension in the racket – this improves the speed of the game.

Wimbledon needs to consider the implications of increased heat, for example the increased heat will result in an increased need for cooling and ventilation systems with the infrastructure hotter. This will increase energy usage and in turn, CO2 emissions as well. There are also public health implications, it might be necessary to increase the number of defibrillators / emergency response as increase heat stress weather conditions will likely make people with pre-existing heart conditions more vulnerable.

Heavy rainfall

Even light drizzle will influence Wimbledon. ‘A saturated tennis ball is about 1% heavier than a dry one, fractionally slowing play. It is also harder to impart spin to a wet surface, blunting the edge of a skilled player and making rallies longer.’

However, our data shows that heavy rainfall is currently a low risk and this is likely not to increase by 2050s under the high emissions scenario. In fact, the summer rainfall for London could be anywhere between -50% and +10% compared to the current climate conditions (1981-2000) and most likely -20%, meaning that summers could become drier. Despite overall summer drying trends in the future, new data from UKCP suggests future increases in the intensity of heavy summer rainfall events. For urban areas particularly, this will impact on the frequency and severity of surface water flooding. We have seen in previous years that play has been interrupted with court coverers covering the courts and the courts with retractable roofs being closed.


Under the high emissions scenario by the 2050s, Wimbledon could have a moderate drought risk, meaning 3-4 months of drought conditions compared to less than 1.5 months annually today (very low risk). This would mean reduction in soil moisture which could impact grass quality and make lawn maintenance more complex and costly. AELTC may need to consider this when planning the future maintenance and irrigation of courts. The increased chance of drier summers will also mean a reduction in humidity which has a more complex effect on the game. While some players believe that humid, heavy air slows the ball down, humidity mainly affects the players themselves, making them sweat more, and playing takes more effort (1). It seems that climate change could alleviate some of this negative effect.

Drought risk also would likely lead to water scarcity. It is plausible that because of prolonged drought and heat-stress conditions in a hotter climate, utility companies will impose non-essential water usage bans, which could impact the maintenance of the tennis courts. In this context perhaps adaptive measures such as collecting rainwater during wetter winter periods and use the rain water as a back-up for the tennis courts could be considered.

In addition to the changing climate, as illustrated in the scorecard above, we also used our Global Peril Diagnostic tool to score the exposure of extreme natural hazard events.

Scorecard outlining our Global Peril Diagnostic tool to score the exposure of extreme natural hazard events.
Scorecard outlining our Global Peril Diagnostic tool to score the exposure of extreme natural hazard events.

The good news for Wimbledon is that the exposure of AELTC is generally low with no significant risks across the board. We have identified moderate wind exposure from winter storms and tornadoes (convective storms and thunderstorms) which are likely to remain within the current levels of variability. Although AELTC is not the most wind exposed area in the UK, there is 1% change that high winds could affect the site which may impact infrastructure of courts and buildings within Wimbledon. High winds can have a significant impact on a game by throwing a player’s serve off, making it difficult to control their shot and reducing the accuracy and success of a serve. Although this is less likely to happen during the 2 weeks of the tournament, regular maintenance of roofs and buildings, and a business continuity plan in place could mitigate any negative impacts to the building stock and minimise the risk to the Wimbledon tournament.

Transition Risks

In the medium term (2030), limited change is expected in the physical risks faced by Wimbledon since the impacts of climate change are likely to manifest on longer timescales (2050+), significant changes are expected in the transitional risk space. However, significant shifts are expected regarding the UK’s economy and policy to facilitate the nation’s target of net zero by 2050. In order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement (I.e., limit global temperature rise to 1.5oC this century) countries need to rapidly decarbonise their economies to meet their GHG emissions reduction targets. Therefore, significant changes in policy are anticipated to enforce this – potentially including mandates on carbon pricing, building codes and the recyclability of products. These changes present ‘transition risks’ – those associated with the move to a low carbon economy.

These can be split into policy & legal, technology, market and reputation risks:

  • Policy & Legal risks:
    • Pricing of GHG emissions could be directly imposed on Wimbledon’s organisers
    • Regulation on the energy efficiency of premises
    • Other mandates and regulation could include those promoting a circular economy e.g., recycling requirements, single-use plastic bans etc – these could impact vendors located at Wimbledon
    • Enhanced emissions reporting obligations (e.g., development transition plans)
    • Litigation risk if Wimbledon is accused of either not going far enough to improve sustainability, or is accused of greenwashing
  • Technology risks:
    • Could include costs to install lower emission technology (e.g., ventilation or air conditioning onsite, means of transport, more efficient appliances etc)
  • Market risks:
    • Increased costs of raw materials e.g., construction material for site developments
    • Shift in customer expectations (e.g., could be boycotted if the public perceive Wimbledon as non-eco-friendly, increased scrutiny around emissions of transportation)
    • Cost of capital could incorporate sustainability considerations
  • Reputational risks
    • Wimbledon has to now consider its perceived credibility around sustainability, which could impact the perception of investors, customers and employees
    • Wimbledon are already an advocate for a positive environmental impact, e.g., increased use of solar panels, introducing electric buggies and recycled water usage.


In conclusion, Wimbledon and sporting events in general needs to consider both the physical and transition risks they face due to climate change. Whilst they are they have significantly changed their own practices to address their impact to the environment, they also need to review and assess how the climate will impact the tournament. How they mitigate these climate risks could also bring a differing risk profile. Their own climate actions proved they have served an Ace, they don’t want to follow up with a future double fault!


1 For consistency, we use a baseline of 1981-2000 across the UKCP science reports, factsheets and guidance as well as the UKCP User Interface. Depending on the dataset, 1961-1990 and 1981-2010 baselines are also available through the UKCP User Interface. For UKCP Local, only the 1981-2000 baseline is available. Note that a 1981-2010 baseline is a standard currently used by the WMO and the State of the UK Climate reports.



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