It's been a messy week for the National Women’s Soccer League in so many ways, and we're not just talking about the officiating during the Tuesday night Dash/Courage match. A Wednesday night clash between the Utah Royals and Reign FC, a critical matchup for both sides with the playoffs on the line, was rescheduled due to unplayable field conditions caused by excessive rain. And Tropical Storm Imelda, one of a terrifying six tropical storms that formed at once this week, has devastated Houston and the surrounding area. Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell shared photos of the flooding around Houston and tweeted at the league, "don't tell us to sleep at the airport for our flight tomorrow that's not the correct answer!!" (You can support folks impacted by Tropical Storm Imelda here.)
Weather and climate are not the same thing, but with severe late-summer weather impacting two NWSL matches this week, many things are thrown into stark relief. One is, of course, a reminder that more investment and organization within the league should come with not just better grounds maintenance, but a concrete, in-writing weather preparedness plan that addresses these issues efficiently and safely, lest we have another #DrainageDerby.
The other is that climate change, as it comes, will come for everything we love, including the Beautiful Game. We saw it this summer during the World Cup where the world's best players struggled with the excessive, sometimes dangerous heat. We've seen it towards the end of the past two NWSL seasons where increasingly strong tropical storms and hurricanes have impacted match logistics and travel. We're seeing it now in Tacoma, in Houston. Although soccer may feel like a trivial thing to lose in the larger stakes of climate change, for most of us, soccer is the thing we turn to when the real world stakes feel like too much. But the sport we love contributes to climate change – sometimes in small ways, like long-haul flights and excessive meats consumed while tailgating; sometimes in more obvious, systemic ways. So many clubs and stadia and tournaments are bankrolled by fossil fuel magnates. As the Amazon rainforest burned last month, we were reminded "that the systematic privatization of the country's environmental review processes in Brazil was implemented to facilitate the hosting of the World Cup and Olympics."
The problem feels overwhelming, but soccer supporters have mobilized for a better world on so many fronts, and there's no reason we can't make this our fight too. I don't know what it looks like, and maybe it looks like a whole lot of things: encouraging leagues to schedule matches to facilitate shorter-haul flights; encouraging clubs and supporters to purchase carbon offsets for away travel; pressuring clubs to cut ties with fossil fuel companies or big agribusiness and others complicit in damaging the planet. Some clubs are already providing examples, like Forest Green Rovers in the UK, who are aiming to become "a carbon-neutral football club." We can use the game we love to have these necessary conversations and push for change, and perhaps we should have been doing that all along. Or as one young climate striker pointed out, "No Earth means no soccer."
Solidarity with everyone striking for a better planet today. May we all work hard to see that vision through.
(Photo: Marcus Spiske)