Fainting, pollution, and heat stroke: how the climate crisis threatens the Tokyo Olympics

tThey may have avoided one of the worst crisis by postponing the upcoming Tokyo Olympics during the height of Covid, but there is no way to avoid another existential threat: global heating.

According to a new report from the British Association for Sustainable Sport, BASIS, the climate crisis will affect nearly every event at the Games, which is being held in Tokyo, a city already heating up more intensely than most places on Earth. is experiencing.

Former British Olympic marathoner Mara Yamauchi wrote next to the BASIS report, “Nothing stirs up passion, motivation and attraction like sport.” “In one way or another, most of us love it. But we risk potentially far-reaching consequences for the sport as we know that if climate change continues to accelerate.”

By this point the far-reaching effects of the climate crisis are well known – rising seas, shrinking icebergs, highly altered climates and agriculture – but it will also pose very specific risks to elite athletes in Tokyo.

Tokyo, a so-called “urban heat island”, has been warming three times faster than the rest of the world since 1900. Japan has suffered several deadly heat waves between 2018 and 2020, which scientists warn “couldn’t happen” as a global warming.

This means that athletes are at greater risk of heat stroke, exhaustion, dehydration, impaired cognitive function, and the health effects from the combination of Tokyo’s urban air pollution with the hot climate. Paralympic athletes also face many challenges, such as skin problems on prostheses during extra-hot weather, from overheating exposure from being close to heated ground in a wheelchair.

Athletes have been sounding the alarm for some time. The triathlete was Johnny Brownlee, who overheated at the finish line of the 2016 Triathlon World Series in Mexico and was helped out by his brother Alistair, who himself was out of the heat at a race in London in 2010.

Tennis star Novak Djokovic said in 2019, “There will be a lot of matches, a lot of players: men’s, women’s, doubles, mixed doubles.” Coming up with the right schedule for organization is quite a challenge, I guess, where you survive the biggest summer, but how do you actually do it? That is the question. With the heat coming on, it’s going to be very tough for the players and the fans, for anyone who is in the stadium.”

But the 2021 Games bring new relief to the problem and show “an expression of the wider threat of climate change for all of us”, according to BASIS founder Dr Russell Seymour.

“The science is clear, and the real-world effects – worsening extremes of heat, drought, hurricanes and floods, and unprecedented levels of pollution – are increasingly the living experiences for millions of people,” he said. “Climate change is with us and, without deep and immediate action, it will get much worse. Even the deniers no longer deny it.”

There are mitigation strategies that can reduce the risk to athletes, from additional cooling breaks, fogging fans for dressage horses, spraying cycling courses with water, and restarting races to avoid the worst of Japan’s summer heat. to determine from or to reschedule.

But ultimately, the BASIS report concludes, they will not be enough to break into the problem as a whole.

Its authors write, “Ultimately, the biggest challenge involves the biggest change – reducing the actions and causes that contribute to rising temperatures and the ever-increasing tendency of unpredictable weather patterns.”

Here, the International Olympic Committee has committed to a number of bold climate goals, although as with any major international institution, it has warnings on its climate agenda.

The 2024 Games in Paris aim to be “carbon-positive”, with carbon offsets and other measures meant to balance carbon emissions from the Games, although one wonders how the thousands of travelers in each Olympic host city convert. are factors in this kind of analysis.

For corporate suppliers and sponsors of sports, which cumulatively emit more carbon than the Olympics or its fans, the plans are still comparatively gentle.

“Paris 2024 encourages its commercial partners and its suppliers to implement sustainability and carbon neutrality criteria for 100 percent of sports purchases,” the IOC wrote in the announcement of its carbon-positive strategy.

If recent history is any guide, incentives are not enough to avert the climate crisis.


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