News and Notes

GSB News and Notes: Tokyo 2020 Launches Cooling Project; Plastic Ocean Waste Trumps Climate Change for US Consumers


GSB takes a look at two hot topics in a mid-summer News & Notes column.

With concern about the potential for dangerously high temperatures for athletes, fans and staff at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics growing, the local organizing committee has introduced a comprehensive cooling program.

And a new study of US consumers shows them to be more concerned about the impact of plastic ocean waste than they are about the impacts of climate change. What are the implications, if any, for sports?



The Opening Ceremonies for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are a little less than a year away — the Olympic Flame will be lit on July 24 and extinguished August 6 — and the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee is trying to plan for extreme heat that may descend on the city of 14 million.

Concerns over unhealthy heat levels for fans, athletes and staff took center stage after Japan’s record summer 2018 heatwave. Temperatures reached 106°F (41.1°C); at least 96 people died of heatstroke across Tokyo’s 23 wards last July.

Tokyo 2020 recently published a 38-page guide full of the initiatives it is considering to minimize the risks of extreme heat on athletes and spectators at next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games (August 25-September 6). According to Michael Pavitt, writing in the June 27 issue of Inside The Gamesthe organizing committee’s main goal is “to prepare an environment in and around venues that will allow everyone to remain as cool and hydrated as possible.”

Some of the ways Tokyo 2020 plans to do this, as highlighted in the guide, include:

  • The postponement and even cancelation of Olympic events because of extreme heat. Talks about potential criteria for postponement/cancellation are ongoing between the local organizing committee and individual sports federations.
  • Allowing spectators to bring their own bottled water into venues under certain conditions. This had previously been prevented at past Olympic Games due to security concerns and sponsorship issues.
  • Deployment of tents with large cooling fans at outdoor venues to serve as rest areas for spectators who are feeling unwell.


Concerns over excessive heat at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics have led organizers to take a series of steps designed to protect athletes and spectators (Photo credit: ABC)


The biggest challenge, extreme heat-wise, for Tokyo 2020 planners, has to be the marathon, with its grueling 26.2 mile course on heat-absorbing, exposed pavement.

Per a January 2019 GreenSportsBlog article, a group of scientists examined weather conditions along the course during a 2016 marathon to pinpoint spots where spectators’ health may be in jeopardy. Their recommendations included placing containers of shade-providing vegetation along the course and rerouting portions of the race to more tree-lined streets.

Marathon start times were the subject of debate. The IOC and Tokyo 2020 wanted the races to go off at 7 am local time or a perfect-for-US-TV 8 pm on the East Coast. The Japan Medical Association and the Tokyo Medical Association countered with a 5:30 am recommendation, saying the 7 am start wasn’t early enough to avoid significant health risks to spectators and athletes. In the end, a compromise was reached with both men’s and women’s marathons scheduled to begin at 6 am local/7 pm EDT.

The marathon is not the only event which will have unusual weather-induced start times: Rugby sevens matches will start at 10 am local time; mountain bike events will commence at 3 pm and stretch towards the early evening hours.

A series of test events this summer in and around Tokyo — from beach volleyball to rowing to field hockey — are serving as proving grounds for the “beat the heat” measures.

Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshirō Mutō told the IOC last month that they would assess the success of the measures in the fall and that there still would be time for further revisions.



American consumers are somewhat more concerned about the impact of plastic ocean waste than they are about the impacts of climate change, according to results of a new survey from the Shelton Group.

When shown a list of ten different environmental issues, 65 percent of US consumers surveyed said they feel very concerned or extremely concerned about plastics in the ocean. This compared to 58 percent who felt very or extremely concerned about climate change.


American consumers are more concerned about plastic ocean waste than climate change, according to a recent study (Photo credit: Advanced Science News)


Asked about the environmental issues they hear about the most — from TV, newspapers, friends and social media — respondents reported that discussions about plastic waste polluting our oceans (57 percent) are now close to on par with mentions of climate change (59 percent). And 63 percent say they’ve heard some to a lot about single-use plastic bans.

With the proviso that this is just one study and the differences aren’t that stark, and thus we shouldn’t overreact to it, it is reasonable to try to glean some meaning from the results.

This study implies that Americans are still more spurred to concern and action over environmental issues that are immediately visible — such as plastic waste polluting our waterways — than they are by climate change and its impacts, which for many is still perceived as problem that will impact future generations. That means, for many, that it’s OK to kick the climate change can down the road.

Of course, the reality is climate change is an immediate crisis. As serious as the plastic ocean waste issue is, I see the climate crisis is even more existential and indeed, more immediate: Per the IPCC’s 2018 report, humanity has until 2030 at the latest to decarbonize by 45 percent if we are to avoid climate change’s most calamitous effects.

As far as sports is concerned, the results give me reason for hope and fear.

My hope is that a good chunk of the athletes who have engaged on the plastic ocean waste issue will, thanks to their increased overall environmental awareness, use it as an on-ramp to involvement in the climate change fight.


Kevin Anderson, the 8th ranked men’s tennis player in the world, is a plastic ocean waste activist (Photo credit: Reuters)


On the flip side, I fear that most athletes will not go beyond plastic ocean waste. It is a “safe” issue. There is little to no controversy about being against plastic ocean waste. Climate change is likely still seen by some athletes as being too political, too risky, too science-y to take on.

How do we change that?

I’ve asked this question of most of the athletes I’ve interviewed in GreenSportsBlog’s six year existence. No matter the sport, and I get the same one-word answer every time: Education.

Protect Our Winters — which educates and trains elite skiers, snowboarders and more to act on climate — is on the right track here, but more needs to be done in terms of giving athletes the tools to talk confidently about climate.

Athletes also need help from sports governing bodies, teams, leagues, and mega-events. Many have often used terms like sustainability and green when talking about their commitment to the environment, but have stopped short of going public with the words “climate” and “change” next to each other.

That has started to change with the launch of the UN’s Sports For Climate Action Framework at the beginning of this year. FIFA, the IOC, the University of Colorado-Boulder athletics, the New York Yankees and others have committed to the Framework. That’s a big deal.

It will be a much bigger deal when we hear and see the signatories speak and act clearly on climate.

Finally, the sports media needs to do its part and tell the stories of athletes and sports organizations that are engaging on climate now



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