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Climate Crisis Forces the IOC to Rethink Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics
The IOC is keen on rotating the Games among a select few safe sites. Credit: Jon Wick, CC BY 2.0.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is mulling over a possible fragmentation of the Winter Olympics citing the climate crisis.

“We need to address very quickly this dramatic impact of climate change on winter sport,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at the 141st IOC Session in Mumbai, India in October. “By mid-century, there will remain practically just 10-12 NOCs (National Olympic Committees) who could host these snow events.”

Given the growing unpredictability of weather patterns and the increasing scarcity of locations with consistent snowfall, the IOC is keen on rotating the Games among a select few safe sites.

These are locations trusted for their predictability in providing suitable conditions for winter sports. The committee has even advised potential future hosts to utilize existing or temporary venues, thereby reducing the environmental footprint of the Games.

As part of its innovative strategy, the IOC is also contemplating a decentralized system for organizing the Olympic competitions. This concept would involve outsourcing certain events to various international and national event organizers who have demonstrated expertise in their respective fields.

This approach would ensure a higher standard of event management, as each organizer would focus on their specific domain.

Under the proposed plan, the requirement for an Olympic Village would be eliminated, and a central hub would be established wherever the ice events are hosted.

Meanwhile, the snow events would be spread out across various locations, thereby distributing the Games more widely. This sweeping reform aims to make the Games more adaptable and resilient in the face of the climate crisis.

“I don’t think there is a Doomsday scenario where we say, ‘OK, by 2050 no more Olympic Winter Games,'” said Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s Olympic Games Executive Director. “But the Games will have had to have adapted themselves to the conditions at that point in time.”

That means finding solutions now to safeguard the Games in the long run.

By 2100, only one city in Japan could host the Winter Olympics

A recent study concluded that only one city in Japan will be able to host the Winter Olympics in the future.

The study, which was published in Current Issues in Tourism, looked at the effect of global emissions on the planet’s ability to meet the environmental demands of the Winter Olympics, finding that there may only be one city by 2100 up to the task.

“Climate change is altering the geography of the Winter Olympic Games and will, unfortunately, take away some host cities that are famous for winter sport,” Robert Steiger of the University of Innsbruck in Austria said in a statement. “Most host locations in Europe are projected to be marginal or not reliable as early as the 2050s, even in a low emission future.”

The study modeled different potential scenarios as emissions worsened throughout a projection of the arch of the twenty-first century. Potentially suitable host cities dwindled as they got closer to the twenty-second century.

“The impact of a high emission scenario was far more pronounced, reducing the number of climatically reliable locations to ten in the 2050s and eight in the 2080s,” it was said. “The prognosis for the Paralympic Winter Games, which occur in March after the Olympics, was far worse.”

In one situation, the sole city capable of hosting the Winter Olympics was Sapporo, Japan.

“The high emission pathway results in a very different outcome for the ability to reliably deliver fair and safe conditions for snow sports at Olympic Winter Games locations,” the authors write. “By mid-century, the number of reliable hosts declines to four (Lack Placid, Lillehammer, Oslo, and Sapporo) and by the end of the century, only one location remains reliable (Sapporo).”

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