Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Should Tennis Go Green?

When I was back in Montana for a few weeks recently, I found myself frustrated with the golfing culture that surrounds my family. My dad always has been a consistent (and talented golfer) and has passed on his passion for the game to my mom, my siblings and other family members.

For some reason I've always had a bad taste for golf in my mouth. I took lessons as a kid and - if I would've put forth an effort - probably could've been pretty decent. Yet every time the discussion turns to golf I can't help picture the thousands upon thousands of acres each golf course spans, and how each of these precious acres is well-groomed and manicured, and, in turn, a guzzler of more water than you and I can imagine.

I once heard that if the US golf industry donated a year's worth of profits to an effort to feed the hungry, our world would be fed for 20 years. That might be a little off, but the point is, why do we allow ourselves such luxuries when others suffer through such struggles?

Yesterday, at the United Nation General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stood up to the world (and to the US) and said: we must stop global warming. It's something most of us have known for a long time now, but to hear it from the mouth of the U.N. is another story.

So as I sat here thinking about how the wastefulness of golf frustrated me, I had to turn the tables on my own anger and look at tennis, too. It seems that professional sport is a wasteful culture in general, as is the first world lifestyle as we know it today.

In tennis, however, the culture of waste is rather extreme. Think about all the resources we go through both as a professional sport and as recreational players: balls, cans, shoes, racquets, string, courts, nets, clothing, water bottles...the list goes on and on. My biggest concern upon reading this list is that the main ingredient in all of these items is plastic. That scary, detrimental, we-used-to-think-it-miraculous plastic.

(Is the sun setting on global tennis as we know it? Photo by Jack Pearce via flickr.)

Instead of trying to tackle tennis as a recreational sport (I've considered quitting playing because of how guilty I feel cracking open a new can of balls or getting my racquet re-strung), let's take a look at the pro tennis tour and how it can become a little more environmentally friendly in response to the ever-deteriorating state of our globe.

First, along with their effort to re-vamp the schedule, the pawn-movers of tennis should focus on region-izing the game. This would mean that players would stay in one part of the world for each season, instead of continent-hopping from week to week. While this happens for the most part, my biggest concern is the fall season, which has players going from Asia to Europe to North America and back to Asia. Cutting down on air travel would mean less oil used by the pro tour and less dependency we would have on a non-renewable resource.

Taking the Little Steps
How much would I love to see a player drinking out of a re-usable water bottle instead of one of those nasty Evian or Aquafina bottles during matches? It would be great to see players take these little steps (like using their own water bottles) to make the game more green. How about not throwing away racquets during matches, tournaments and practice sessions and re-using them throughout an entire year, or (gasp!), several years. Tennis players can also cut back by using practice balls for more than just one hitting session, making sure they eat with china and not paper or plastic, and do their best to curb a consumer mentality by re-using and reducing as much as they can.

Making a Statement
Have tennis players noticed that they have the media at their fingertips? Yes, I understand that it can get ugly if professional athletes try to doddle into politics. But this isn't a political statement they're making - it's an environmental statement! Players have the resources and ability to research what global warming means to them as individuals and speak out on how they want changes to occur and also on what they are going to do about it.

(This picture shows tennis balls being recycled. Another way to curb the tennis footprint on our globe. Photo by yingyang via flickr.)

Tour Involvement
The WTA and ATP Tours should take the first step in making their tours more green. By encouraging players to be more eco-friendly and doing their best to make their tournaments so, the Tours can set an example for what green tennis can look like. Perhaps by donating money to certain research and green-advocacy groups, the Tours can take necessary steps to make tennis player, fan and earth friendly.

Perhaps the tennis world is too far removed from the rest of the globe, but if global warming continues at the pace we're seeing it right now, there won't be a tennis tour in the not-too-distant future.

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