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Ladakh hosts Asia’s first high-altitude, low carbon footprint soccer tournament, promoting environmental awareness through sport in the fragile region.

In the remote and mountainous desert region of Ladakh, India, a pioneering event is taking place — the first "climate-friendly" football tournament, an initiative that is as much about raising awareness of climate change as it is about the sport itself. The tournament, dubbed the "climate cup," is being held in the town of Leh, a location perched over 11,000 feet above sea level, making it the first of its kind in Asia to be staged at such a high altitude with a minimal carbon footprint.

The climate cup, which ran from September 1 to 7, saw four teams competing in a series of matches held on alternate days. The high-altitude stadium's synthetic turf became a battlefield where players, despite taking two days to acclimatize to the thin air, found themselves grappling with the harsh conditions, including afternoon sand and dust storms brought on by strong winds.

The organizers took a series of unprecedented steps to ensure the event upheld its climate-friendly pledge. Transportation for the players was arranged through electric buses, while a strict ban on plastics was enforced at the stadium. In a bid to promote sustainability, players were provided with multi-use aluminum sippers, and water dispensers filled with water from a local spring were placed in dugouts.

Local administrator Tashi Gyalson emphasized that the tournament was conceived as a tool to foster awareness about the pressing issue of climate change in Ladakh, a region grappling with the severe repercussions of environmental degradation. The initiative encourages spectators to bring their non-plastic water bottles, while abstaining from offering chips or sodas, instead serving traditional, organic Ladakhi food and locally sourced fruits.

Electric buses are used to take players to and from the matches and all plastic is prohibited at the stadium. Players have been given multi-use aluminum sippers. Water is from a local spring and dispensers have been placed on dugouts.

The tournament is “our attempt to use sports for spreading awareness about the perils of climate change in Ladakh,” said Tashi Gyalson, a local administrator.

Ladakh, a region nestled between India, Pakistan, and China, and once a pivotal part of the historic Silk Road trade route, is witnessing the stark realities of climate change. The region, known for its pristine highland passes and vast river valleys, has been experiencing altered weather patterns leading to floods, landslides, and droughts, forcing many to migrate. The region's thousands of glaciers, once referred to as the "water towers of the world," are receding at an alarming rate, posing a grave threat to the water supply of millions.

The region, which receives a scant 4 inches of rainfall annually, recorded an unprecedented 1.69 inches of rainfall in July alone, marking the highest in three decades, a clear indication of changing climate patterns, noted Mukhtar Ahmed of the Indian Meteorological Department.

According to AP News, the tournament stands as a testament to the region's determination to fight climate change on multiple fronts, with Gyalson affirming that utilizing a climate-friendly soccer tournament is just a humble beginning. The event, infused with an organic DNA, according to adviser Shamim Meraj, is a beacon of hope, showcasing a path of resilience and adaptation, where simple acts like refilling a bottle from a dispenser or grabbing a piece of fruit symbolize a community's united front against the perils of climate change, fostering a spirit of environmental consciousness through sport.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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