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ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - June 10, 2009: Sprinklers and water help keep the grass green at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. ( Ryan Carter / The National ) *** stock, water, golf, green, sprinklers *** Local Caption *** RC029-UAEgolf.JPG RC029-UAEgolf_2.JPGRC029-UAEgolf_2.JPG
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - June 10, 2009: Sprinklers and water help keep the grass green at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. ( Ryan Carter / The National )

*** stock, water, golf, green, sprinklers *** Local Caption *** RC029-UAEgolf.JPG RC029-UAEgolf_2.JPGRC029-UAEgolf_2.JPG

The challenge of going green in sport

Of all the sports, motor racing and golf are the antithesis of environmentally friendly. But they are trying to change that.

Formula One and golf are two sports at the far end of the environmentally friendly spectrum, writes Paul Radley. They are trying to change that fact

Sport may be a glorious distraction from the serious matters of life, but the environmental impacts of pursuing it are often overlooked.

Some estimates suggest that last year's World Cup in South Africa contributed nearly three million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

That is roughly the same as released by one million cars over the course of a year. And football is not even considered to be one of the major polluters in sport.

If sustainability is defined as the method of protecting the environment by using energy most efficiently, then the complete antithesis of it is motorsport.

Formula One is an ecological basket case, with cars that guzzle fuel at a rate of three miles per gallon freighted from one side of the world to the other, sometimes on a week-to-week basis, during the 19-race championship season.

Aside from the miles clocked up on the track, the teams travel and transport their equipment approximately 160,000km between races and test sessions over the course of the campaign.

To add the cherry to the icing of excess, Bernie Ecclestone, F1's overlord, is considering spraying tracks with water, just to add excitement by making driving conditions less predictable.

Ecclestone himself is an avowed eco-sceptic.

"When the world gets real and they start using nuclear energy to produce the power that we waste, then all this nonsense about green will disappear," he told The National before last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. "If you think about the amount of fuel we use, it's not even worth thinking about. If you start talking that kind of nonsense, you could say there is more fuel used by the cars visiting and then you would have to stop football, as well."

However, F1's powers that be have submitted to the eco guilt-trip to an extent. New regulations designed to offset at least a modicum of the carbon footprint have been implemented.

In 2009, Kinetic Energy Recovery System (Kers) devices were phased in to some F1 cars. The device recovers the kinetic energy collected in the heat created when the cars brake.

The specified aim of Kers is to promote the development of environmentally friendly and car-relevant technologies in F1.

Its relevance on the track is that it also aids overtaking, as the stored energy is converted into power that can be called upon to boost acceleration.

Further to that, the FIA's World Motor Sport Council announced in December that new environmentally friendly regulations will come into force from the 2013 season.

As per the new rules, the 2.4-litre V8 engines currently used in F1 teams will be replaced by four-cylinder 1.6-litre engines. The change is expected to reduce fuel consumption by 35 per cent.

The moves have not met universal acclaim with F1 fans. Some fear the roar of the engine may become a whimper with the new engines, but others think more can be done.

"I think it is relevant to what is happening in the world," said Mike Jelfs, a Dubai-based F1 fan who is a regular at the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi grands prix.

"Why can't it be the ultimate racing just because it is green? I don't think they have done enough with [Kers] because they are only allowed to use it for six seconds per lap when they could develop systems which recover far more energy.

"With the smaller engine, some people say you will lose some of the spectacle with the noise, but you won't. If you go and stand 100 metres from the end of the straight, the sight of an F1 car coming down at 300 kilometres per hour and not hitting the brakes till 80 meters from the corner is something that will be spectacular no matter what it sounds like."

While motorsport investigates ways to offset its ecological stain, golf will remain a major drain until it finds a viable alternative to water for making grass grow.

The problem is exacerbated in the Middle East, where five per cent of the world's population vie for just one per cent of its freshwater supply. According to the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, a golf course in the UAE can require as much as 1.3 million cubic metres of water annually, enough to meet the daily needs of 15,000 residents.

Put another way, the amount consumed in one day by a golf course is approximately equivalent to a year of waste water (water that cannot be re-used for human consumption) at Wild Wadi, the Dubai water park.

The statistics suggest golf is a wildly indulgent luxury in the region, yet the number of courses continues to grow. The only way it has been made to work is via the use of "reclaimed" water, which goes a little of the way to explaining why the region accounts for 50 per cent of the world's desalination apparatus.

However, leading clubs are doing their bit. At Yas Links in Abu Dhabi, golf buggies are solar-powered, unlike the battery-operated carts elsewhere, which need recharging after around six hours of use. They do not provide plastic cups at the on-course water dispensers, thus encouraging re-use of water bottles. And this month the club is staging a beach clean-up, with a view to, among other things, safeguarding the health of the 12 ducks which have made the course their home.

The club is doing all it can to combat the greater ill, as well.

"Water bills are the biggest curse to our operation," said Chris White, the general manager of Alder Golf, the developers of Yas Links. "Grass wasn't designed to be grown in the desert and it costs a lot to do that. In construction, we selected a grass type (paspalam) which could take a slightly poorer water quality, and survive in high summer temperatures."

He said blended saltwater and freshwater could be used on the course, as well as treated sewage effluent (TSE) water, "which is what we used to grow the course in. The reason we used these grass types and green amendments in construction was with a long-term view to reduce the amount of water we would need to put on the golf course. We have a duty to do it, and it will ultimately result in a saving."

 

pradley@thenational.ae

Additional reporting by Gary Meenaghan

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