Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Canadian Wildfires Create Problems for Sports in USA | Sports Destination Management

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Canadian Wildfires Create Problems for Sports in USA

Jun 08, 2023 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Smoke from the Canadian wildfires covers a golf course in Howard County, Maryland, where play had to be cancelled due to poor air quality. Photo by Rick Reid

Place the mask over your face and mouth and … well, never mind. Because of poor air quality caused by the wildfires in Canada, a number of sports events being held in the northeast corridor of the USA have bypassed masking and started postponing (if not outright cancelling).

And, say meteorologists, with an unseasonably dry spring and early summer, no relief is in sight.

Canada is enduring its worst wildfire season in years, if not decades, notes Reuters. Fires have forced thousands of people from their homes and sent a smoky haze billowing across U.S. cities. From Vermont to South Carolina and as far west as Texas and Kansas (and make no mistake, that smoke is on the move so it may well drift further), air quality is poor.

In fact, residents of all affected areas have been warned that spending time outdoors could cause respiratory problems due to high levels of fine particulates in the atmosphere. One study noted that breathing in wildfire smoke comparable to smoking 3 to 11 cigarettes a day. Air qualities quickly went from Code Green to Code Yellow to Code Red to (gulp) Code Purple and residents are being warned to stay indoors.

It’s no wonder, then, that sports organizations have been seen their schedules affected. Among them are the following:

Major League Baseball: Multiple MLB games were postponed, the league announced last Wednesday afternoon: the New York Yankees vs. the Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies vs. the Detroit Tigers. The Washington Nationals game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was postponed, and MLB officials were evaluating other games currently on the docket in affected cities.

Wildfires causing problemsMinor League Baseball: A number of games in the MiLB rotation were affected by the smoke, according to Front Office Sports, which noted: “The Yankees’ top minor-league affiliate, the Scranton-Wilkes Barre RailRiders, postponed their home game in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. The Syracuse Mets, the top affiliate of the New York Mets, similarly postponed their game Tuesday and moved a special Wednesday morning Education Day game to 6:35 p.m. before postponing it entirely.”

National Women’s Soccer League: The Guardian noted, “The NWSL postponed Orlando’s match at Gotham in Harrison, New Jersey, from Wednesday night to 9 August.”

“The match could not be safely conducted based on the projected air quality index,” the NWSL said.

Women’s National Basketball Association: Maybe you thought indoor arenas were safe; you’d be wrong. The WNBA announced the postponement of the New York Liberty vs. Minnesota Lynx game at Barclays Center. Reportedly, smoke had entered the arena, according to Yahoo! Sports.

The trickle-down effect was also felt at the amateur level. In Virginia, said the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in many cases, teams who had crucial playoff and championship matches were evaluating minute by minute air quality. In some cases, officials noted, events might have to be moved or rescheduled.

ESPN also reported: “...The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said schools should understand that all schedules were subject to change.

"NJSIAA is closely monitoring air quality data across New Jersey and local/state health advisories. As start times for athletic events draw near, we will make decisions for each venue and sport based on currently available information," the organization said.”

The Midwest had its share of problems; in Minneapolis, outdoor events were being cancelled.

Travel tournaments are also expected to be affected, although many might have already been impacted because of airline schedules. The Points Guy noted that by mid-week, domestic airlines were reporting disruptions. In fact, TPG points out, “despite expectations that impacts on commercial flights would be minimal, ground stops at New York's LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) Wednesday afternoon kicked off a cascade of flight delays.” Flights to and from Philadelphia also experienced problems, as did those to other affected airports.

It’s not the first time sports have been affected by air quality problems caused by fires; in 2017, wildfires in Northern California caused postponements, changes of schedules and even cancellations, and a two-game series in Seattle between the Mariners and Giants was moved to San Francisco in September 2020 because of poor air quality caused by West Coast wildfires.

Even where sports events were not imminent, some facilities had to be closed, affecting amateur and recreational play. In Alberta, a fire near an 18-hole golf course caused the closure of that facility. As far away as Howard County, Maryland (a distance of more than 2,500 miles), the Hobbit’s Glen and Fairway Hills golf courses were closed in response to poor air quality; local swimming pools were also closed, and many outdoor recreational activities were cancelled.

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