Heat Risks At The 2024 Paris Olympics

The report has 5 recommendations for sporting authorities

High levels of heat driven by climate change could pose a significant threat to athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympics, a new report backed by leading athletes, the University of Portsmouth (UK), the British Association for Sustainability in Sport (UK), Climate Central (USA), and FrontRunners (Australia) warns. Please note that all materials are under embargo until Tuesday, June 18 at 04:31 am IST/ 00:01am BST / 01:01 CEST / 09:01 AEST.

The average temperature during the months of the 2024 Summer Olympic Games has risen by 3.1°C since 1924, the year of the last Olympics in France. The mean minimum temperatures – which represent night-time temperatures – have increased by 3.3°C, while the number of days with a maximum temperature of at least 30°C in Paris have become increasingly common.

The Tokyo Games became known as the “hottest in history,” with temperatures exceeding 34°C and humidity reaching nearly 70%, leading to severe health risks for competitors. The Paris Games have the potential to surpass that, with climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels contributing to record heat streaks during the past months.

Leading athletes are warning that intense heat at the Paris Olympics in July-August 2024 could lead to competitors collapsing and in worst case scenarios dying during the Games.

11 Olympians, including winners of five World Championships and six Olympic medals, have come together with climate scientists and leading heat physiologists from the University of Portsmouth to unpack the serious threat extreme heat poses for athletes in a new Rings of Fire report.

“It’s a terrifying prospect when we see the direction things are heading and how rapidly the climate is deteriorating around us,” says Katie Rood, a striker for New Zealand’s football team.

“It is not in an athlete’s DNA to stop and if the conditions are too dangerous I do think there is a risk of fatalities,” says Jamie Farndale, a rugby 7s player for Great Britain.

“For athletes, from smaller performance-impacting issues like sleep disruption and last minute changes to event timings, to exacerbated health impacts and heat related stress and injury, the consequences can be varied and wide-ranging. With global temperatures continuing to rise, climate change should increasingly be viewed as an existential threat to sport,” says Lord Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics and 4-time Olympic medallist.

The Tokyo Games became known as the “hottest in history,” with temperatures exceeding 34°C and humidity reaching nearly 70%, leading to severe health risks for competitors. The Paris Games have the potential to surpass that, with climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels contributing to record heat streaks during the past months.

2023 was the hottest year on record according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and 2024 has continued this streak. April 2024 was warmer globally than any previous April in the record books, said experts at Copernicus.

The Rings of Fire report discusses the deadly heatwave in France in 2003 – which killed over 14,000 people – and subsequent years of record-breaking temperatures, exceeding 42°C. It underscores the heightened risk of extreme heat during the Paris Olympics, especially considering the significant rise in the region’s temperatures since the city last hosted the Games a century ago.

The report has 5 recommendations for sporting authorities. These include

(i) smart scheduling to avoid heat extremes
(ii) keeping athletes and fans safe with better rehydration and cooling plans
(iii) empower athletes to speak out on climate change
(iv) boost collaboration between sporting bodies and athletes on climate awareness campaigns
(v) reassess fossil fuel sponsorship in sport.

President of Athletics Kenya, General Jackson Tuwei says: “The findings of this report are grave, but they are unsurprising to us as a country that this year has received such vivid reminders of the devastating impacts of climate change – most recently in the floods that claimed so many lives in April and May. Challenges are mounting for athletes regarding air pollution, food and water insecurity and lack of shade. And, as this report makes especially clear, the challenges of climate-change induced extreme heat for athletes are extensive and pose risks of devastating outcomes.”

Japanese race walker and 2019 World Champion Yusuke Suzuki explains how the enduring consequences of heat illness derailed his Tokyo Olympic dreams and took a profound personal and professional toll- including on his physical and mental health. New Zealand tennis player and Olympic bronze medallist Marcus Daniell: “At [the Tokyo Olympics] I felt like the heat was bordering on true risk – the type of risk that could potentially be fatal. One of the best tennis players in the world [Medvedev] said he thought someone might die in Tokyo, and I don’t feel like that was much of an exaggeration […]. We sometimes have to play in conditions where an egg can literally be fried on the court. This is not fun or healthy. Heatstroke is relatively common in tennis.”

Highest-ranking triathlete in Indian history, Pragnya Mohan describes being exposed to “scary” dangers “that can be fatal” as “your body feels like it’s shutting down” and recounts how she can no longer train in her home country because of the heat.

Sam Mattis, American track and field athlete, discus thrower (Olympian and gold medallist at the 2019 Outdoor USA Track and Field Championships): “Unfortunately, in the US, athletes dying from heat stroke is not new. As extreme heat events become more commonplace, and the stakes remain unchanged for athletes (perform or go broke), it seems likely that it will happen again.”

Other athletes within the report include:

● Hannah Mills, SAILING, GREAT BRITAIN (Double Olympic Champion)
● Imogen Grant, ROWER, GREAT BRITAIN (Olympian and two-time World Champion)
● Eliza McCartney, POLE VAULT, NEW ZEALAND (Bronze medallist at the 2016 Olympics and silver medallist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games)
● Kelsey-Lee Barber, JAVELIN, AUSTRALIA (Olympic bronze medallist and two-time world champion)
● Rhydian Cowley, RACEWALKER, AUSTRALIA (Represented his country at Rio and Tokyo Olympics)
● Ajla Del Ponte, SPRINTER, SWITZERLAND (Olympian and 60m gold medallist at 2021 European Athletics Indoor Championships)
● Elena Vallortigara, HIGH JUMP, ITALY (Olympian and 2022 World Championships bronze medallist)
● Morten Thorsby, FOOTBALL, NORWAY (International for Norway, has played in Serie A and the Bundesliga)
● Jenny Casson, ROWER, CANADA (Tokyo Olympian, in 2019 broke the 2,000m world indoor rowing record )
● Katie Rood, FOOTBALL, NEW ZEALAND (Forward for national team and Hearts, formerly of Juventus)

The report, produced by BASIS and FrontRunners, concludes by urging the sporting community to address these concerns and implement a series of athlete-inspired recommendations to ensure competitor safety and well-being. It highlights the urgent need to listen to athlete voices and place greater emphasis on protecting athletes and the fabric of sport as climate concerns intensify.

The writer of this article is Dr. Seema Javed, an environmentalist & a communications professional in the field of climate and energy

Related Articles

Back to top button