Sports leagues in North America generate massive emissions because they rely heavily on long-distance air travel throughout the season. Virtual solutions, adopted by many other sectors, are not feasible since players must be present for the game. However, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has unintentionally provided a chance for sports leagues to optimize the schedule and reduce emissions.

Seth Wynes of Concordia University, Canada, estimates that in the pre-pandemic 2018 season, teams from four major sports leagues of North America travelled 7.5 million kilometres and emitted 121,841 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The National Basketball Association (NBA) generates the highest emissions, as they travel with larger aircraft and have fewer consecutive games in the same arena.

The author further analyses the climate benefits that resulted from attempts to reduce exposure to the virus in the 2020 season. These interventions included geographic sorting, increasing consecutive repeated games, cancelling overseas games and reducing the season length. If these changes are maintained, we could expect a reduction in air travel emissions of 22% in the future. Furthermore, these policies could also reduce player fatigue and injuries.

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Lingxiao Yan.

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Yan, L. Sports league travel.
Nat. Clim. Chang. (2022).

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