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Fewer balls, please

5 July, 2024

With another year of Wimbledon underway, the focus is on sustainability. The club has an elegant and comprehensive sustainability strategy in place, and this year it is offering spectators the chance to bring a refillable water bottle and fill it with unlimited tap-dispensed Evian during the tournament. Not as sustainable as south London tap water, but probably better tasting and certainly better than disposable bottles.

Even the balls are in play. Each year, hundreds of millions of tennis balls are used globally. The current design makes it hard to recycle so the International Tennis Federation has explored other options. Instead of the industry standard rubber and felt tennis ball, they have developed a prototype of a ball with a polymer shell, which is more recyclable and has a longer lifespan. Over the next few weeks, the prototype will be presented to manufacturers and stakeholders, who will test its performance. At the same time, ways to adapt current rules around how often balls are changed during matches are also being investigated. At Wimbledon, tennis balls are currently swapped every 7-9 games (not matches) and while used balls are sold for charity, fewer balls in use during the tournament would still save resources.

There are learnings for other leisure sectors and venues too – from how to have a nature positive site to mobilising staff and athletes to support its efforts. Wimbledon’s efforts to move to a sustainable future should be applauded, alongside feats of sporting prowess.

By Rosie Serlin

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