NHL Releases Report Warning Future of Hockey in Jeopardy Due to Climate Change

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2014

FILE - In this June 12, 2013, file photo, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during an NHL hockey news conference in Chicago. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman declined to comment on the impact of the NFL football concussions lawsuit last month, but he said the league has been proactive for decades in addressing head injuries. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Climate change is something that can affect all sports, even the ones that are predominately played indoors.

According to the 2014 NHL Sustainability Report, hockey's future is in danger as global temperatures continue to rise.

University of Toronto professor Danny Harvey points out, via Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, that outdoor hockey is where many young players get their start, an activity that might not be possible in some regions going forward:

Global warming threatens Canada’s advantage over other countries in hockey. We know that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux and the Staal brothers — a lot of elite Canadian hockey players — got good because of the hours and hours of unstructured time they could spend playing on natural outdoor rinks in their backyards.

As the climate warms, we’re going to lose that. It’s not the same thing playing structured hockey in an indoor arena. You need those hours and hours of unstructured creative play. That’s one of the advantages we have.

Of course, this is not just a Canadian problem. Many youths around the world—including northern parts of the United States—also compete in pickup games on open ice. Considering the high cost of ice time in formal rinks, this has been a much easier way to practice.

Unfortunately, the melting ice in these frozen ponds can limit the available opportunities for young kids to play hockey. As a result, they might stay away from the sport altogether.

The Guardian recently reported that June was the hottest the month had ever been worldwide, while May also featured a record-high average temperature. The Vancouver Observer also noted high marks in Canada:

Fan interest continues to be an issue for the NHL, as no hockey game has been one of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2014 so far, according to Sports Media Watch. If younger fans are forced to stop playing, it would not be surprising to see them stop watching as well.

This problem could be especially bad, considering how popular the Canadian teams are at the moment. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Canada boasts the league's top three teams in terms of popularity:

The Sustainability Report was commissioned by the league as part of the green initiative it started in 2010. In it, there is a look at how each game over the course of a season can impact the environment based on carbon emissions, water use, total waste and more.

Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Green Sports program explained the importance of the study, via NHL.com:

The 2014 NHL Sustainability Report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league. The Report's focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.

It is no surprise that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was recently honored with this year's Environmental Leadership Award:

The league still has many areas that need improvement, but it is nice to see a league taking an important matter like this so seriously.

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