SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s rampaging bushfires continue to affect top-level sporting events with a women’s soccer match scheduled for Newcastle on Friday postponed because of the poor air quality and expected soaring temperatures.
Hundreds of fires have scorched more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land – an area the size of South Korea – killing 26 people and an estimated 500 million animals, and destroying over 1,000 homes.
Football Federation Australia said on Thursday with the poor air quality in the Hunter region, which encompasses Newcastle, and temperatures expected to exceed 30C (86°F) at the kickoff time of 5 p.m. (0600 GMT), the women’s W-League match between Newcastle and Adelaide would be rescheduled for Feb. 1.
The men’s A-League match between Newcastle and Sydney, which kicks off at 7.30 p.m. on Friday will go ahead, the governing body said in a statement.
“The forecast ambient and Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) for that match remain within acceptable ranges for the later kick-off and the air quality forecast is improving with the arrival of a wind change to the north east on Friday,” FFA said.
“In making decisions regarding whether a fixture will proceed, the safety, welfare and comfort of our players, match officials and fans remain our ongoing focus with regard to air quality issues as a result of these bushfires.”
Sports organizations in Australia have kept a watchful eye on the weather conditions ever since a men’s Twenty20 Big Bash cricket match in Canberra last month was called off due to poor air quality caused by smoke from the fires.
Cricket Australia was constantly monitoring air quality during the final two tests of their series with New Zealand, while Tennis Australia (TA) moved a lower-level tournament from Canberra.
TA also said they would halt matches at the Jan. 20 – Feb. 2 Australian Open in Melbourne, the year’s first Grand Slam tournament, if air quality deteriorated.
Sports organizations and athletes have also launched fundraising campaigns for victims and relief efforts, with former Australian cricketer Shane Warne auctioning off his ‘baggy green’ cap that is awarded to players on test debut.
Tennis players have pledged to donated money for every ace they serve while in Australia. All-time greats Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams have agreed to take part in an exhibition to help raise funds.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Himani Sarkar)