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Will Climate Change Spell the End of the Winter Olympics?

winter olympics
Global warming is posing an existential threat to the Winter Olympics. Credit: Andrew Mandemaker

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will officially kick off on Friday, but climate change has thrown the future of the event into jeopardy.

The climate conditions that are essential for sports like skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding are rapidly disappearing, causing many athletes and scientists to question whether the Winter Olympics is even sustainable.

High winds and rapidly melting snow has forced multiple cancellations and shakeups throughout the world of winter sports ahead of this year’s Olympics, with the Alpine skiing World Cup’s slalom competition being cancelled this past November due to high winds.

Not only are wind speeds creating environments too dangerous for events to be held, but a new study has found that the majority of potential host cities for the Winter Olympics will not have a sufficient amount of snow or ice for the games to take place.

The study, which was published in “Current issues in Toursim,” was conducted by a team of researchers from Austria, Canada and the United States. The team found that even if carbon emissions were reduced, only three of 12 European cities that previously hosted the Winter Olympics would be able to do so again in the 2050s.

“Part of what we do papers like this for is to get the message out that we have a large influence..and so, if we act, (there is) hope of avoiding those worst-case scenarios,” said Daniel Scott, a professor at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) who co-authored the study. “Climate change and the future of the Olympic Winter Games: athlete and coach perspectives.”

Athletes lament the effect of climate change on Winter Olympics

“Climate change is here. It’s happening. We’re living in it right now. It’s not something that’s going to be in the distant future. It’s here. And you see it with the fires in California, floods in Europe, higher snow levels, shorter winter, longer summers. droughts. It runs the whole gamut. Everywhere in the world is having some effect from it. And there’s not really any turning Back,” said Travis Ganong, a 33-year-old from California at China with the United States ski team.

“Selfishly, I hope winters are here in the future,” he added. “But it’s not looking good.”

NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have previously said that the past eight years were the hottest years ever recorded on the planet. Athletes have an increasing awareness of the affects of global warming on their sport while recognizing the effects across the world.

“The glaciers are receding. The winter is starting later and ending sooner,” said John Kucera, the 2009 world champion in downhill who currently coaches for Canada’s Alpine team. “For a sport like ours, we might pay for it sooner than some others. We are dependent on the climate and the weather and that dictates what we’re able to do.”

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