Tennis goes on despite heatwave in Oz Open

2014-01-16 00:00

CANADIAN tennis player Frank Dancevic was one of those who struggled to cope with the Melbourne heat during day two of this year’s Australian Open.

Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova was another who required treatment as the sun baked down on the courts.

It was so hot Down Under that one of the ball boys collapsed, and the recently engaged Caroline Wozniacki complained that her water bottle was melting into the surface.

Despite all the drama and protestations from some of the players, the show went on.

But, how hot is too hot?

Dr Heinrich Nolte, an exercise physiologist who has published numerous international research papers on exercise in the heat, some in conjunction with the renowned Professor Tim Noakes, said the guidelines provided at the Australian Open relating to the extreme weather conditions are accurate.

He emphasised that one needs to differentiate between the risks, signs and symptoms of dehydration and heatstroke, as they are separate medical conditions requiring different treatments.

Nolte indicates that certain precautionary measures could indeed be put in place to try and limit the risks of heatstroke during the weather conditions currently experienced at the tournament.

“Firstly, athletes need to acclimatise themselves to the environmental conditions if they are not used to them prior to competition.

“The players arrive at these events in advance to prepare which would assist in this taking place”.

Environmental conditions should be monitored by the event organisers in order to make decisions regarding the safety of the players.

If conditions became extreme, “one thing they could do is have slightly longer breaks for instance”, he told The Witness .

Having said that, Nolte indicated that due to the nature of the sport with a lot of regular breaks, type of clothing worn, stop-start actions and relatively low intensity compared to other sports, elite tennis players suffering from heatstroke is not a regular occurrence.

The risk for severe dehydration is even less and Nolte said athletes have to make sure that they drank just the right amount of water.

“What is not widely known is that drinking too much water is more dangerous to athletes than drinking too little,” he said.

Due to South Africans being used to heat, Nolte said he is not aware of many sporting events in the country being called off, although a multi-day adventure race was halted towards the end of last year due to extremely hot conditions. He did however recall the deaths of eight would-be RTI recruits, and said that it was most likely heatstroke rather than “dehydration” that led to their demise.

The heat factor will also be in focus at the 2022 Fifa World Cup due to be held in the desert state of Qatar.

Fifa have recently announced that they were exploring the option of playing the tournament in the Qatari winter where temperatures would not be as high as they would be in summer.

The authorities in Qatar are also thinking of installing air conditioners inside stadiums.

• lunga.biyela@witness.co.za

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