As the Emilia-Romagna region faces ‘apocalyptic’ flooding, the subsequent cancellation of the Imola Grand Prix will raise concern with sports organisers across the world

As F1 falls victim to a climate-related event, it poses a concern for sporting organisers across the globe, with major tournaments likely to face more extreme weather events. Meanwhile, climate protestors will feel validated in raising their concerns.
May 31, 2023
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Source: Business Today

‘Apocalyptic’ flooding sees Imola struck from this year’s F1 calendar

The Emilia-Romagna region in Italy has borne the brunt of significant rainfall since the start of May, where earlier in the month, floods have already caused the death of two people. In the most recent downpour, some parts of the region received the equivalent of their annual rainfall in just 36 hours. The severe flooding has been exacerbated by a recent period of drought where the hard ground has led to increased surface run-off.

At the time of writing, the floods have caused devastation, with fifteen people confirmed to have been killed and more than 5,000 people evacuated from 24 towns across the Emilia-Romagna region. According to the I, authorities have said that flooding had hit 37 towns and communities, and around 120 landslides had been registered. At least one bridge near the city of Bologna collapsed, some roads were undermined by floodwaters, and many rail services were suspended[i]. This has led F1 to cancel the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, which would have been held in Imola from 19th-22nd May. Parts of the circuit have been flooded, and it was deemed unsafe for fans to travel to the region, where last year’s event saw more than 100,000 tickets sold and at least 64,000 fans present on race day. According to Reuters, Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali, who was born in Imola and worked at the track in his youth, said: "We need to ensure safety and not create extra burden for the authorities while they deal with this very awful situation,"[ii]

The cancellation of the Grand Prix comes in the same year that the sport had set a record-breaking calendar- aiming to hold 24 races. However, this has since seen the number of races drop to just 22, with both the Chinese and the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix now being cancelled.

It’s also not the first time extreme weather has significantly hampered a race weekend. In 2021, F1 faced a washout at The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, more commonly known as ‘Spa’ in Belgium. In this instance, the race was effectively completed under a safety car with no overtaking, as the volume of water was deemed unsafe for the drivers. Failing light also meant the race could not be postponed to a later point in the day. It displays an issue F1 organisers will have to deal with- extreme climate events require flexibility and agility in adapting race weekends, lest we see further cancellations in future.

The timing of the cancellation of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix could not be more poignant; hours after the event was called off, locally-based team AlphaTauri announced they had achieved the highest level of sustainability recognised by motor sport’s governing body, the FIA. We will discuss F1’s sustainability push in an upcoming insight piece set to launch next week.

F1 is not alone in its exposure to climate risk

A study conducted by the Climate Coalition in December 2020 estimated that around 62,500 amateur games in the UK are cancelled or postponed each year due to extreme weather related to climate change. This follows a 2018 study that found grassroots clubs lost an average of five weeks to bad weather each season, with more than a third losing between two and three months. This highlights the threat to activities that provide important social, fitness and well-being functions for millions of people and form the basis of professional sport.[iii]

Author and academic David Goldblatt joined forces with Sky Sports to produce Football's Toughest Opponent, a documentary that outlined the threats of the climate crisis to football across Europe.

"Extreme weather leads to extreme flooding," "We're not talking about a few puddles on the pitch; we're talking about 1.5 metres of water which means no football.” "In England, this is really serious. My calculations are that around a quarter of professional stadiums in the top four leagues are under threat of annual flooding or actually being under water by 2050.”[iv]

The recent Beijing Winter Olympics were the first to be held on nearly 100% artificial snow. However, depending on how climate change progresses, this scenario could become the norm for future Winter Games. Aerial photos of the Beijing Winter Olympics venue showed a distinct lack of snow at the Yanqing ski resort, and the slopes used by skiers are artificially maintained and jut out uncomfortably from the surrounding green slopes.[v]

 Source: AP News[vi]

A scientific paper published in Current Issues in Tourism in 2022 found that if the world continued on its current emission pathways, two-thirds of all Winter Olympic venues used for international competitions may become unreliable for use between 2071 and 2100. However, if the Paris Agreement emissions targets were met instead, the proportion of unreliable venues would rise from 19% of already unreliable venues between 1981 and 2010 to 29%.[vii] The unreliability of venues is not only due to the necessity of artificial snow. Inevitably, climate change will also adversely affect many other conditions that are critical to the conduct of fair and safe competition. These issues include increased fog and wind, increased rainfall, the need to treat snow chemically, and competition and training scheduling issues due to snow not being readily available.

Source: Forbes & Statista

To lose international sport is to lose a powerful tool for change

The threat of the climate crisis upon sport is not just a threat to the many fans from around the world that are encapsulated by the unique spectacle of sport but also to the values that sport ties to itself and to many social issues that sport has acted as a platform for. For many, sport is seen as a great ‘leveler’.

For example, fifty years ago, at the height of the Troubles in Ireland, it was unclear whether England would even play in Dublin. However, England did run out at Lansdowne Road in 1973, marking a memorable moment in rugby history. The year before, Wales and Scotland refused to participate in the Five Nations tournament in Dublin, effectively ending the tournament. The decision was made after Bloody Sunday in January 1972, widely known as one of the darkest days of the Troubles. A few days later, the British Embassy in Dublin was burned to the ground. With the situation precarious and the stakes high, England decided to go to Dublin the following year in February 1973 to play Ireland at Lansdowne Road. The England team took to the field before the Irish team and was greeted by thunderous applause and a standing ovation from 50,000 Irish fans that lasted for many minutes.[viii]

A standing ovation at Lansdowne Road

Source: BBC Sport

Dick Milliken, who made his Ireland debut at the match, said: "It was one of the most significant games because it's remembered mostly because of the fact that England turned up. A lot of English guys were getting threats, they were getting phone calls and stuff." He added: "You could understand why some of the English guys were naturally apprehensive."[ix]

Notably, on 24 June 1995, the William Webb Ellis trophy was presented to Springboks captain François Pinard in front of a crowd watching the Rugby World Cup final. The trophy was presented to him by South African President Nelson Mandela, who was instrumental in making this moment a reality. For South Africa, it's not just about winning major sporting events. It was a victory for peaceful unity over apartheid and a victory for an entire nation that managed to avoid the very real threat of civil war that loomed over the South African people in the early 1990s. South Africa had been marginaliszed by the international community for decades due to its prescribed racist policies. South Africans lived in an isolated world subject to paranoia and government censorship. In the late 1980s, the country was in trouble. Domestic unrest, economic sanctions and decades of war had hit South Africa hard. In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president after 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activism. He was South Africa's first democratically elected black president, and despite his premiership, he believed there was still work to be done to combat persistent racism. Realising the power of sport to bring people together, he decided to use the Rugby World Cup as a way to bridge deep racial divides.[x]

Nelson Mandela presenting the Rugby World Cup to South African captain François Pinard

Source: The Collector

When the men's 200m medals were awarded at the 1968 Olympics, the following scene was etched into the collective memory of activists and sports fans around the world. Smith and Carlos, gold and bronze medal winners, respectively, were at the ceremony dressed to protest. They wore black socks and no shoes to symbolise the poverty of African Americans and black gloves to represent the strength and unity of African Americans (Smith also wore a scarf and Carlos beads in memory of the lynching victims.). As the national anthem played and an international television audience watched, each one bowed and pumped their fists. After the two were banned, images of their gestures were incorporated into the iconography of sports protests. But they both insist they have no regrets about 1968. "I went there as a dignified black man and said, "what’s going on is wrong," said Carlos. Their protest "was a cry for freedom and for human rights," says Smith, who added, "We had to be seen because we couldn't be heard.".[xi]


Source: The Guardian

These are just three examples of how sport has played its part in changing the world. What could be lost in a world where the climate crisis strips us of these possibilities? There is a spiritual and holistic damage that climate change’s insidious creeping impact can inflict, and it is just one more reason to ensure that every possible effort is made to strive towards net zero.

The health of the sports sector presents various opportunities for the growth and development of sports business in terms of products and services. Sports clubs, schools, fitness centres, and health associations always involve a large number of people and require facilities and services. Employment opportunities naturally arise due to the need for tools, equipment and facilities to support sporting activities. Sports tourism is now considered a multi-billion dollar business. This is seen as a means of generating significant sustainable economic growth achieved through investment, tourism development and other areas of interest. Cities, regions and even national economies are increasingly dependent on athletes. In some other countries, sports are reported to account for 25% of the total tourism industry revenue. A well-executed combination of quality sports and local attractions will certainly increase the visibility of the area, increase the occupancy rate of other forms of accommodation, such as hotels and guesthouses, and benefit the local population. may bring about. This is supported by the statement that sports tourism essentially contributes to national or local business fairs. Sports Tourism also stimulates economic growth, especially in local co-commerce, by spending on athletes, visitors and commissions.[i]


[i] Italy floods map: Where flooding has hit in Emilia Romagna and how it affects travel after Imola GP cancelled (

[ii] Motor racing-Imola F1 race called off as floods devastate region (

[iii] BBC Sport- Football's fight to stay afloat: The clubs feeling the effects of climate change

[iv] Sky Sports- Football's Toughest Opponent: Climate crisis and the fight for a more sustainable game

[v] Forbes- Will Climate Change End The Winter Olympics?

[vi] AP News- Alpine skiing hill at Beijing Olympics is a new test for all

[vii] Current Issues in Tourism- Climate change and the future of the Olympic Winter Games: athlete and coach perspectives

[viii] BBC- Six Nations: The Ireland-England game still remembered 50 years on

[ix] Ibid

[x] The Collector- Mandela & the 1995 Rugby World Cup: A Match that Redefined a Nation

[xi] Smithsonian Magazine- Olympic Athletes Who Took a Stand

[xii] Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research- Strategy and Effect of Sport Tourism Business

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Oscar Pusey
Research Analyst

Oscar is a recent graduate with a background in earth science. He is currently studying an MSc focussing on disaster responses, emergency planning and community resilience. His postgraduate research project will assess the link between climate crisis risk perception and attitudes to green energy projects. “Adapting to the climate crisis through the pursuit of net zero requires community engagement and understanding. Zero Carbon Academy’s goals closely align with this approach and I’m excited to have the opportunity to research and communicate a variety of topics relating to our environment and sustainability”.

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