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Whither the weather …

… and whether to do something about it?

[There – I’ve managed to get three forms of the same-sounding word into a five-word sequence, is that some sort of record?].

With the 1965 opening of the building now officially known as the NRG Astrodome – the Houston Astrodome to you and me – the business of outdoor sporting and entertainment events first glimpsed the Brave New World as it ought, and one day had, to be.

I was but a kid of thirteen at the time and was suitably agog as the UK newspapers provided stirring lists of its statistics, versatility and size equivalents, not least of which was the impressive suggestion that, upon certain occasions in the dead of winter (or was it summer?) – when the air-conditioning and other elements conspired – it was capable of creating its own micro-climate under its dome and potentially even cause rain to fall upon its spectators.

Actually, thinking about it now, that was probably a myth – albeit a ‘nice to have’ one.

Way back in my school days and youthful zenith [which I have decided ended at about the age of thirty-five], we all played outdoor sport with little regard for the weather. By which I mean of course that, although the weather conditions upon any given day might materially affect my performance, or indeed the sporting game or event in which I was taking part, I never gave this more than a passing thought.

There was little point. Within reason – i.e. in the absence of hurricane-wind-swept forest fires, violent thunderstorms, lightning or eight feet of snow – whatever the weather conditions, and irrespective of whether in prospect one relished or recoiled from them, if your school’s games master, or relevant prefect, had allocated you to undertake a cross-country run, a game of hockey, cricket, soccer or rugby on a particular afternoon, that is what you were going to be doing, end of message.

The prevailing weather conditions, before and during the event, were simply part and parcel of the contest. If the cricket pitch had been baked to concrete by a month of blistering sunshine, as a supposed pace bowler you could attempt to ‘bounce’ your opposition batsmen out and put the fear of God amongst them. In contrast, if there had been rain for much of the previous week and the wicket was ‘green’, perhaps your spinner could run amok by turning the ball sideways. It was all part of life’s rich tapestry and (presumably) the same for both sides. The outcome would depend upon the respective strengths and weaknesses of the skills of each team, their collective team spirit and fitness … and perhaps, to an extent, the leadership of their captain.

lonelinessDitto the winter sports. If I could remember any of them today, I’d probably lose count of the number of cross-country runs or field games I’ve played in which everyone was slipping and sliding around in the mud, or through standing water and/or leaning into a bitterly-cold wind (laden with hail-stones or driving rain), or even – dare I say it – being practically reduced to breaking the ice in order to prepare to take a rugby place-kick following the award of a penalty or try.

And at the time thought nothing of it. Or, quite possibly, relished those very conditions and indeed the influence they had upon proceedings.

“Ah …” [as Bob Dylan once memorably sang] “… but I was so much older then/ I’m younger than that now …”.

I’m sure that most of my readers will be able to recall great sporting occasions down the last fifty years that have been either materially affected by the prevailing weather conditions, or even possibly abandoned because of them. (I do not intend to begin compiling here a list of those I personally can pluck from the ether for the simple fear of revealing how poor my memory is these days). But you know where I’m coming from …

In more recent times (the 21st Century) I can think of some of the downpours of some of  2012 London Olympic events, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow … and (this last weekend) the Anniversary Games held at the Olympic Stadium in London, the abandoned third women’s Ashes ODI match at Worcester and America’s Cup World Series event off Portsmouth.

With all the money sloshing about within the modern sporting world, surely we cannot be far off putting roofs upon all our great sporting stadia. That much is obvious, isn’t it, when you think about it?

You set up and organise one of your sport’s key annual events or games – plan it down to every the last detail that you can – including negotiate the ticket prices and sales, sell the on-site food and drink concessions, get your stewards and (if necessary) your government and police onside as regards crowd control etc. … sell the broadcasting rights to over 75 countries around the world, perhaps even organise the start-time to suit the scheduling demands of your most important territories … and then a bloody monsoon arrives about half an hour before it’s all due to begin.

bolt2Last Friday I watched the athletes, many of whom were in search of a future meet’s qualifying time and/or team selection, having to contend with a solid downpour all evening in a two-thirds full London Olympic Stadium.

For both the athletes and spectators the event was, literally and figuratively, a washout.

The irony was that – as the presenters pointed out – the Stadium had recently benefited from the addition of an expanse of roofing around its upper rim, above the floodlighting system as it featured at the 2012 Olympics. This provided shelter from the elements for more of the spectators than ever before – and also, to an extent, for lanes 8 and 9 on the outside of the running track (the others, i.e. lanes 1 to 7, being affected by standing water).

Why hadn’t (or didn’t) the owners of the London Olympic Stadium put a roof over the entire building?

That way athletes themselves could have been be made safe – as it happened, on Friday the high jump and pole vault competitions were either postponed or abandoned – and also give of their best; the spectators could watch in comfort; and, of course, the events could begin, and ultimately conclude, on time – as per the television schedule offered, and accepted, around the world.

oracleCompare the America’s Cup World Series Event in Portsmouth, at which – due to gale force conditions and heavy rain – a whole day’s racing (of just two) had to be abandoned yesterday. This was a blue chip opportunity for the event (sailing’s premier contest?) to market itself around the world, for Sir Ben Ainslie and his team to promote themselves and the whole south coast area around Portsmouth to gain commercial and PR advantage.

The whole thing was – to coin a phrase – a damp squib. For all the preparations – the Portsmouth sea front area had been expensively decked out like some sort of mini-Olympic city – there could be no planning for the weather.

The ‘opening’ night (Friday) was featured live on the southern BBC television News, with brave predictions being made of half a million spectators hitting Pompey over the course of the four-day extravaganza, but the win and rain was already putting a damper on things.

As the on-scene reporter hyped up excitement over ‘The Launch’, taking place upon a rock festival-like stage in a bowl that could house up to 10,000 spectators “in 20 minutes’ time” … behind him, this viewer could see a maximum of thirty, pretty-underwhelmed, members of the public milling about. Finding a pair of them who could be interviewed about their hyperventilating excitement at what was about happen was an embarrassing ordeal.

I’m not saying that we need to put a dome over the whole of the Solent, or indeed the English Channel, to bring the America’s Cup into the 21st Century.

But surely, in this day and age and for all kinds of reasons, when we can create rain and supposedly nearly ‘control’ our environment by the application of scientific method, the world’s sporting authorities need to consider insulating all their events from the effects of the weather?

Conversely, would doing something such as I propose materially affect sporting events for the worse – simply in terms of removing the random (and sometimes welcome) influence of weather upon sport?

Well now, that’s a whole different issue and one that we may have to return to in the future …