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Gold, silver, bronze and green… is hosting the Olympic games sustainable?

There is no doubt that hosting the Olympic games is great for the hosting city as it boosts tourism, development, international attention and creates a legacy. But is hosting the Olympic games in a new host city every four years sustainable for our planet?

When I think of the Olympic games I think of sparkling new stadiums, the best tracks, swimming pools, velodromes, pitches, courts, Olympic villages and athlete accomodation. But, by constructing this amount of infrastructure to be used for a short period of time is the environmental impact worth hosting the Olympic games?

Rio 2016 has been named ‘the least sustainable Olympic games’. Shocking statistics have been published that it created 17,000 tonnes of waste, used 29,500 gigawatts of electricity, consumed 23,500 litres of fuel and emitted a total estimated 3.6 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. Also, sewage was dumped into Guanabara Bay- which even caused the Olympic sailors and windsurfers to be alerted to not ingest the water due to it being highly toxic. In addition, the construction of the new golf course caused the destruction of Marapendi bio-reserve, home to some of the rarest species. Rio had promised to plant 24 million trees but however has since gone against this promise as the organisers only planted 8 million. It seems ironic that the IOC declared environmental protection as the ‘third pillar’ of the Olympic Movement yet the Olympic games are contributing greatly to climate change, deforestation and water pollution.

The good news is- since the Rio 2016 Games the IOC have increased their focus of the sustainability project of the game. The recent Japan 2020 games was largely a success for sustainability. The main fuel source used in the games was hydrogen which was used to fuel buses and cars transporting athletes as well as the Olympic torch. Also, 99% of the goods produced for the Olympic games were made out of recycled material, for example the athlete’s beds in the training village were made out of recycled carboard as well as the medals being made from recycled electronics. Also, due to the pandemic as there was no spectators- the games produced barely any waste.

When investing billions of money into creating new infrastructure for the Olympics many host countries see the long term benefit of the ‘Olympic Legacy’ that will be left behind with new state of the art facilities for future generations to be able to enjoy. However, the first images that came up when I searched ‘abandonned Olympic stadiums’ were the countless images of different stadiums that have been left to ruin from the 2004 Athens games. I had predicted the only images I would find was of old stadiums from the early 1900s, but the Athens Olympic Games were only hosted in 2004. Pictures of swimming pools, hockey pitches, basketball stadiums, volleyball stadiums, caneoing and kayaking slaloms and the velodrome are unused and left to decay. It seems surprising that most of the infrastructure constructed for the games now lies abandoned especially after the €8.954 billion that was invested by the government to construct the Olympic park. Although the Olympic Games were a success there was a struggle to find investors for the venues, which has ultimately lead to the state of disrepair of the facilities. It seems concerning that we are constructing large amounts of infrastructure to be used only for a summer and then to be abandoned.

The Olympic games, in my personal opinion, still have a long way to go toward becoming sustainable, and the current steps the IOC are taking are often perceived as ‘greenwashing’. However, there is future for the upcoming Olympic games with Paris 2024 aiming to be the most sustainable Olympic games to date. The Olympic Games provides a unique platform to reach a global audience as it is predicted that over 50% of the world’s population will watch the upcoming 2024 Olympics held in Paris, this an opportunity to serve as a model for cities and countries around the world to emulate to become more sustainable.

To improve the sustainability of the event, I believe that more stricter guidelines and regulations need to be set by the IOC to be able to measure the environmental impact of the Olympic games. In 2000 the IOC set up a measurement of the impacts of the Olympic Games in each host city over a period of only 10 years. Since this regulation was put in place the only games that has abided by this regulation was the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. However, this study was abandoned in 2017 only after 7 years.

Furthermore, I also believe that one solution to the issue of sustainability that could be explored would to use already constructed infrastructure. For example, rather than the Olympic Games only being held in the capital of a country, it should be held in different areas around the country where there is already the infrastructure, for example holding the cycling at the already constructed velodrome in Manchester rather than constructing a new velodrome in the Olympic village for the London 2012 games. This would also decrease the amount of concentrated tourism in one area and would have a wider impact on the whole countries economy rather than being concentrated in the city.

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