Winter Sports

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As Climate Changes, Number of Winter Olympic Cities Expected to Dwindle

3 Jul, 2020

By: Michael Popke

As if the International Olympic Committee needed something else to worry about, a new report from a UK-based climate change advocacy organization warns that more than half of the 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics will be unable to do so again by 2050. And only six will be suited to host them by 2080.

“Climate change is, of course, not uniform, but one almost universal consequence of our current course is that average temperatures will rise everywhere, and in mountainous regions, home to most winter sports, that will mean less snow, falling less often, and melting more quickly,” reads the report, prepared by the Rapid Transition Alliance. The organi[z]ers of the 2010 Vancouver winter games wrote that ‘the warmest weather on record... challenged our ability to prepare fields of play for athletes in the venues at Cypress Mountains.’ Sochi 2014 was warmer still. Many competitors complained about the lack of snow, and the slow, wet, heavy snow that was available was difficult to [maneuver] on. These poor course conditions meant that most medal winners came from amongst the first ten athletes to start in each competition, who had the huge advantage of racing on drier snow that was quickly degraded for those that followed them.”

The report, titled “Playing Against the Clock: Global Sport, the Climate Emergency and the Case For Rapid Change,”also points out that “[t]he IOC has a carbon footprint close to that of Barbados. … Sporting events are responsible for massive levels of aviation, carbon-heavy stadium construction and mountains of unrecycled garbage, all making a significant contribution to the catastrophe now engulfing us.”

As Inside the Gamesreports, the IOC ruled earlier this year that all Winter Olympics host cities beginning in 2030 must be “climate positive” — which means “specific elements relating to carbon emissions will be added to the Host City Contract and each Organi[z]ing Committee will be ‘required to go beyond the current obligation of reducing and compensating carbon emissions directly related to their operations.’”

Other distressing predictions from the “Playing Against the Clock” report suggest that one-quarter of English league soccer grounds will be at risk of flooding every season and one in three British Open golf courses will be damaged by rising sea levels.

“In 2020, the world has been given a master class in the dynamics of catastrophe,” the 44-page report concludes. “The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on sport has demonstrated the fragility of our institutions, but also the possibility of radical, rapid change. … [T]hough we may find our way through the pandemic, [we] will still be threatened by climate change. It is no surprise that sport did not predict and prepare for coronavirus, but with climate change there is no excuse; we have had the pre-match brief, the dossier, the video playback and all the data. What time is it? It’s game time.”

Access the full “Playing Against the Clock” report here.

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