Tropical Rio de Janeiro is in the middle of an Olympic-Paralympic Games festival of sport, with Tokyo primed to take over in 2020, and Paris, Los Angeles, and Budapest jostling over who gets to host the Games four years after that (Rome is also technically in the running but nobody expects its bid to survive much longer if the new mayor sticks to her election promises). But a warming climate suggests that sites for future Olympics will be significantly more restricted.
New studies conducted by an international collaboration of researchers, entitled The last Summer Olympics? Climate change, health, and work outdoors, indicates that by the latter part of this century there will be severe restrictions on which Northern hemisphere cities are cool enough in the summer to be able to host the iconic Games without athletes succumbing to such inflictions as heat exhaustion. It assumes a low-risk maximum ‘wetbulb global temperature’ (WBGT) – a combination of temperature, humidity, heat radiation and wind – in which athletes can perform of 26°C, a threshold which has already seen events called off in the past – such as the 2007 Chicago marathon – as health concerns have understandably taken precedence over sporting competition.
The researchers found that only eight Northern hemisphere cities outside of Western Europe will likely be considered low-risk enough to be suitable for hosting the Games come 2085 – San Francisco, Calgary, Vancouver, Riga in Latvia, St Petersburg and Krasnoyarsk in Russia, Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. Neither Latin America or Africa would be capable of providing a single viable city. The study discounted cities with less than 600,000 residents (those not large enough to be able to successfully host a large international event such as the Olympic or Paralympic Games) or those over a mile high in altitude.
Even more alarmingly, by 2100, the risk to hosting the Games becomes even more severe; with the prospect of the world’s elite athletes having to congregate on the British Isles every four years, as only Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and Belfast will remain cool enough for such events to take place.
‘If you’re going to be spending billions of dollars to host an event, you’re going to want have a level of certainty that you’re not going to have to cancel it at the last minute,’ warns Kirk Smith, Director of the Global Health and Environment Program School of Public Health University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the report. ‘Climate change is going to force us to alter our behaviour from the way things have always been done. It is a substantially changing world. If the world’s most elite athletes need to be protected from climate change, what about the rest of us?’