Upcoming mega sports events are being forced to deal with the harsh reality of the effects of climate change.
Expectations of excessive heat next July and August in Tokyo caused the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C) to move the 2020 Olympic men’s and women’s marathons as well as the race walking events to Sapporo, 500 miles to the north.
FIFA moved the Qatar 2022 Men’s World Cup from its traditional June-July spot on the calendar to the more temperate November-December time slot. Apparently that’s not enough as the host country is outfitting some of its new outdoor stadiums with air conditioning.
2020 OLYMPIC MARATHONS MOVED 500 MILES NORTH DUE TO EXTREME HEAT
Marathons are among the most iconic events in any Summer Olympic Games.
Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila running barefoot through the streets of Rome to gold in 1960 and the USA’s Joan Benoit Samuelson — now a climate change activist — waving to a packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at the end of her 26.2 mile gold medal journey in the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984 are but two of the many memorable Olympic marathon moments.
If any marathoners are to make history at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they will not be doing so in Japan’s capital city.
That is because the the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) announced the men’s and women’s marathons, plus the race walking events, will take place in Sapporo, host city for the 1972 Winter Olympics 500 miles north of Tokyo.
The decision is sensible: Temperatures in Sapporo in late July and early August are projected to be about 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than in Tokyo.
Excessive heat is a massive headache for Tokyo 2020 organizers and may well turn into a dangerous health issue for athletes and fans. The city is often brutally hot in July and August with hundreds of deaths recorded each summer from the extreme heat. The 2020 Summer Games will open on July 24 and close on August 9.
I.O.C. and local organizers originally moved the start of the marathons in Tokyo at 7 AM local time to avoid the worst of the heat. But those early start times did not do enough to allay the concerns of fans, athletes and public health officials. So the I.O.C. moved the marathons and race walking events to Sapporo.
Why not stage the Olympics in more temperate October, as was the case 1964, the last time the Games took place in Tokyo?
As Vincent Mather wrote in the October 16 issue of The New York Times, it’s all about the dollar: “The I.O.C. wants to maximize its television audience and the money it can collect from media [rights] fees, especially in America, which pays the biggest broadcast rights fee.” Organizers know that going up against NFL and college football as well as postseason baseball would depress TV ratings. And that would greatly reduce rates NBC Sports can charge for advertising.
The 2000 Olympics in Sydney were the last Summer Games to take place in the fall (late September). Per Mather, “they remain the least watched Summer Games in the United States over the past several decades.”
Ergo, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will take place in the heat of the summer and the marathons will be run in Sapporo.
The Hokkaido Marathon, held every summer in Sapporo, is the model for the 2020 Olympic marathons that have been moved from Tokyo (Photo credit: Sapporo Travel)
GSB’s Take: The decision to move the Olympic marathons and walking races to Sapporo is a welcome one. I’m sure NBC Sports and the other media outlets broadcasting Tokyo 2020 around the world, as well as the local organizers, would love the visuals of runners coming into the sparkling new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. But, for once, runner and spectator health took priority.
Since Paris and Los Angeles, the host cities for the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics, can both be very hot in late July-early August, moving Olympic marathons to cooler areas may become the rule.
QATAR AIR CONDITIONING OUTDOOR STADIUMS IN ADVANCE OF 2022 FIFA WORLD CUP
FIFA took a different course than the I.O.C after they awarded the 2022 Men’s World Cup to Qatar.
With average daily high temperatures in the traditional June and July World Cup window in the 94°F/34.5°C range, FIFA moved the World Cup to the more temperate November-December (average daily high temperatures 76°F/24.2°C).
Apparently that decision — which means the 2022 World Cup will cut a giant hole in the middle of the English Premier League’s season, as well as the campaigns of every other European domestic league — is not enough.
In “Facing Unbearable Heat, Qatar Has Begun to Air-Condition the Outdoors,” the must-read long-form piece in the October 16 edition of the Washington Post, reporter Steven Mufson details how some of the tiny country’s eight new outdoor stadiums — along with many other outdoor venues (i.e. pedestrian malls) that are unrelated to the World Cup — are being outfitted with air conditioning.
Qatar’s Al Janoub Stadium, one of the 2022 FIFA World Cup venues that features outdoor air conditioning (Photo credit: Washington Post)
Here are some key passages:
- “Small grates…beneath each of the 40,000 seats at Qatar’s Al Janoub Stadium push out cool air at ankle level. And since since cool air sinks, waves of it rolled gently down to the grassy playing field. Vents the size of soccer balls fed more cold air onto the field.”
Small vents beneath the seats at Al Janoub Stadium shoot cool air at ankle level (Photo credit: Washington Post)
- FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to the country that:
- Is “one of the hottest places on Earth, Qatar has [already] seen average temperatures rise more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial times, the current international goal for limiting the damage of global warming.”
- “Has the distinction of being the largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the World Bank — nearly three times as much as the United States and almost six times as much as China.”
- “Outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030¹.”
GSB’s Take: Mufson’s nuanced piece is well worth your time. It goes far beyond the 2022 World Cup, delving into how an über wealthy country like Qatar can try to engineer its way out of the most calamitous effects of climate change. For now at least.
Regarding the 2022 World Cup, GSB wonders if FIFA would have awarded its men’s crown jewel event to Qatar if the UN’s Sport for Climate Action Framework had been in existence in 2011 when the vote was taken. FIFA was an early signatory of the Framework.
Going to a country that leads to the moving of the World Cup to November-December and necessitates the building of air-conditioned outdoor stadiums doesn’t exactly scream climate action.
¹ According to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference.