Milan and the Alpine resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo won the right to host the 2026 Winter Olympics earlier this week when the IOC chose the Northern Italian duo over the Swedish capital of Stockholm and the village of Åre. While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made a variety of recent positive moves on climate in recent years, including signing on to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework, GreenSportsBlog wanted to know if the IOC made the best choice from a climate perspective.
It only took one ballot to decide the matter.
Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo won 47 of the IOC committee votes cast, Stockholm-Åre garnered 34 votes, and there was one abstention. Cortina hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956. Sweden was seeking to host the Winter Games for the first time.
Members of the delegation from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo react after the Italian cities were named to host the 2026 Olympic Winter Games (Photo credit: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
Sustainability figured prominently in the discussion of Italy’s win by the IOC’s top brass.
“We can look forward to outstanding and sustainable Olympic Winter Games in a traditional winter sports country,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in his congratulatory message.
Of course Bach likely would’ve said the same thing had the Swedish duo been victorious — both bids offered robust sustainability plans.
And let’s be honest: Neither sustainability nor climate change were the main reasons Milan-Cortina won the day. Much more likely, per polling conducted by the IOC, it was a lack of enthusiasm for the project in Sweden — rating 28 percent below the Italians — that turned out to be a decisive factor.
But what if climate change had been the sole criterion on which voters would make their decision? Which bid should have prevailed in that case?
It turns out the answer is a bit complicated as both the Swedes and the Italians had sustainability points in their favor.
According to an article in the June 24 issue of The Conversationby Mark Wilson and Eva Kassens-Noor, Professor and Associate Professor, respectively, of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University, “hosting in Stockholm and…Åre would have been more practical for a simple reason: It’s colder there and the Swedish region gets far more natural snow than Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.”
With images of Sochi 2014 and its acres of man-made snow still clearly etched on my brain, it seemed to me that the bid that wins the natural snow battle should win the right to host the Winter Olympics if climate change is the only metric.
Artists rendering of the moguls venue for the 2026 Stockholm-Åre Winter Olympics bid (Sweden Olympic Committee)
But there is another side to this story.
Kassens-Noor, in an email exchange with GreenSportsBlog, also made strong points about the climate bona fides of the Italian bid.
She cited a 2014 study by three researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada and one from the Management Center of Innsbruck, Austria¹ that noted that “even under the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios, Cortina D’Ampezzo is one of the four most climatically-reliable locations of all those cities that have hosted the Games before.” Of course, since the Winter Olympics have never visited Sweden (the 1912 Summer Olympics were held in Stockholm), the researchers did not study Stockholm-Åre. Still, Cortina earns climate reliability points.
Dr. Eva Kassens Noor, Associate Professor in the Global Urban Studies Program and the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University (Photo credit: Eva Kassens-Noor)
And, per Kassens-Noor, the facts that the “the region has hosted the Games before” and that 93 percent of the Milan-Cortina Olympics venues already exist are significant climate-related advantages for the Italians.
GSB’S Take: Like most of you, I like a clear choice in my which-is-the-more-climate-friendly-Winter Olympic-bid decisions. Milan-Cortina vs. Stockholm-Åre was not clear cut.
While Cortina is one of the four most climate-reliable host cities of those that have hosted Olympics before, we don’t know where Stockholm-Åre would fall on that spectrum because they have never hosted a Winter Games. So, to me, we still don’t know which is the most climate-reliable between the two bids.
Thus it becomes a choice between natural snow/Stockholm-Åre and venues-already-exist/Milan-Cortina. The problem is, I haven’t seen emissions data on both of these metrics. So the choice becomes one from the gut.
My gut goes with the Italians and their existing facilities.
Then I hope it snows in the week or so before the Games in 2026.
Finally, it’s important to note, per Kassens-Noor, that both the Milan-Cortina and Stockholm-Åre bids were far superior, from a climate perspective than Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018. So progress is being made on climate and Winter Olympic bids.
¹ D. Scott, M. Rutty and P. Johnson, University of Waterloo. R. Steiger, Management Center, Innsbruck
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After the greatest weekend of Elite Eight games ever — all four went down to the wire, with two going to overtime — the Men’s Final Four is now set. This Saturday evening in Minneapolis, Auburn takes on the University of Virginia and then Texas Tech and Michigan State will go at it.
While the ESPN’s and SI.com’s of the world will analyze the on-court matchups in detail throughout the week, GreenSportsBlog digs into each school from a Green-Sports point of view.
And, we also take a look at Green-Sports goings on at Oregon, Baylor, Notre Dame and UConn — the participants in the Women’s Final Four in Tampa.
Charles Barkley, the greatest basketball player in Auburn history, was overcome by emotion after his alma mater’s thrilling 77-71 overtime victory over favored Kentucky sent the school to its first Final Four. He wiped back tears in the game’s immediate aftermath, calling the win “the greatest day in Auburn basketball history” on the CBS Sports postgame show.
An energy efficiency campaign is underway at Auburn Arena, home of Tigers men’s and women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics.
The football team hosts an annual Green Game at 87,000 seat Jordan-Hare Stadium that features student “Trash Talkers” roaming the tailgate areas, urging fans to recycle, a video on Auburn’s greening programs that runs in-game on the video board, and a Green-Sports focused column in the game program.
Energy-efficient LED lighting illuminates Plainsman Park, Auburn’s baseball stadium.
Auburn football players, coaches, and others traveled to the Dominican Republic in May 2017 where they built and distributed water filters and solar light packets to those in need.
Helen Ulrich, a sophomore journalism major on the women’s equestrian team, earned her eco-athlete stripes by writing a story on the anti-plastic straw movement.
Auburn football players Dontavius Russell and Daniel Carlson drain and assemble the filters before they are inserted into the buckets in the Dominican Republic in 2017 (Photo credit: Auburn University)
And while there’s no way of knowing if the Tigers (also, for some reason, known by the “War EAGLE” battle cry) will qualify for the 2020 Men’s Final Four at in Atlanta, there will definitely be an Auburn flavor to the event from a green point of view. Per this 2018 GreenSportsBlog interview, Carlie Bullock-Jones, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Ecoworks Studio, and an Auburn grad (“War Damn EAGLE!”), played an important role in helping Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum status.
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CAVALIERS
If you are a UVA fan, you still probably can’t get enough of seeing THIS:
It took that miraculous last millisecond bucket by Mamadi Diakite for Virginia, off of that amazing whip pass from Kihei Clark, to send its Midwest Region final against the gutty Purdue Boilermakers into overtime. The top seeded Cavaliers then took care of business in the extra frame, winning the “Game of the Tournament” (so far) 80-75, earning the school its first Final Four berth since 1984.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia Class of ’16, only made it as far as the Sweet Sixteen during his four seasons in Charlottesville. But the Milwaukee Bucks guard is making UVA alums proud through his Hoops₂Oinitiative. Brogdon and four other NBA players¹ are working to raise funds and awareness for clean water initiatives in East Africa. Fans donate to the program in the name of one of the players, with the players matching those contributions dollar-for-dollar. So far, Hoops₂O has raised $164,000 towards its Year One goal of $225,000. Click here to contribute.
Malcolm Brogdon, founder of Hoops₂o at a Waterboys well site in East Africa (Photo credit: Clay Cook Photography)
Brogdon was inspired by Waterboys, the program midwifed by former Virginia football star Chris Long. The two-time Super Bowl champ and 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner, along with support from more than 20 current and retired NFL players, funds the digging of wells in the area and teaches the locals how to operate and maintain them.
Chris Long was the keynote speaker at the University of Virginia’s 2018 Commencement ceremony (Photo credit: Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Since its inception in 2013, Waterboys, now officially connected to Hoops₂O, has raised more $2.6 million to fund 55 wells that will provide water to over 205,000 people.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS
Run a Google search on “Texas Tech University Athletics Sustainability” or something similar and you get several links to articles about…the University of Texas. This is to say that, so far, Red Raiders’ Athletics has not yet embraced Green-Sports.
Yet the university is a leader when it comes to climate change communications despite being located in the politically and religiously conservative West Texas city of Lubbock.
That is thanks largely to climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and arguably the world’s most powerful climate change communicator. In fact, Time Magazine named her to its “100 Most Influential People in the World” list in 2014.
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. (Photo credit: Artie Limmer, Texas Tech University)
Dr. Hayhoe spoke with us in 2016 for GreenSportsBlog’s “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports” series. Here’s an excerpt that focuses on how sports can play an important role in the climate change fight (click here to read the entire interview):
GSB: You emphasize the community-religious-economy boosting nature of climate change solutions in your must-watch web series, Global Weirding. That makes total sense.
Katharine: Science is the foundation but what connects with people, what binds them together — shared values — turns out to be bigger than the science! And the pathways in our brains that are used to solve issues respond more to the shared values approach than the scientific. And community and shared values, that’s what sports is all about. Sports is part of our collective shared identity. It builds community. And this goes back millennia to Roman times and chariot races.
GSB: So how do you think sports can play an important role in building awareness and action among fans? Many times, when I ask why more athletes don’t get involved, I hear that “climate change is too complex!” But if what you’re saying is right — and I think it is — athletes don’t need to worry so much about the science. They need to emphasize the importance of the solutions to the communities where they play!
KH: Exactly. Now some sports are effected more directly and more in the present than others. Hey, I’m Canadian, so I get that hockey and other snow sports are deeply concerned about the effects of climate change on their sports in the here and now. That’s why it’s great that Protect Our Winters and the National Hockey League are leading the climate change fight. Hey, we’re a skiing family so we see a shorter ski season. I’m also a sailor and so the effects of increased ocean acidification are powerful as they are obvious…But athletes in sports that don’t have as direct a link as those we mentioned can certainly get involved. Look, I often talk about the Six America’s of Global Warming. Basically, Americans fall into six groups as it relates to global warming/climate change: From most engaged to least, it goes like this:
I think for now at least, we’ll leave the Dismissives — they’ll be very hard to move. But I’ve found the way to communicate with the Cautious, Dis-engaged and Doubtfuls is to emphasize shared values and concerns, and then you can move them. Sports is as powerful, as passionate a platform as there is to move masses of people.
Amen, Dr. Hayhoe. AMEN!
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Michigan State can lay claim to being the greenest school in this year’s Final Four on at least one metric: It is the only one of the four to have green as one of its school colors.
In addition, its Sustainability Office:
Manages the Be Spartan Green team of student volunteers. They monitor waste stations at Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Football and Hockey games to help divert recyclable items from going to the landfill, as well as informing attendees about recycling options.
The East Lansing-based school, now just two wins shy of its third national championship, also boasts a faculty member whose research has centered on sustainability issues surrounding mega-events like Olympics, World Cup and, yes, Final Fours.
GSB: Now let’s look to Rio 2016. Plenty of media outlets have tackled the environmental problems related to the polluted waters of the sailing and rowing venues. But what about its legacy?
Eva: I’ve been very critical of Rio in terms of legacy…
GSB: Why? We wrote about the additional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines in Rio that are Olympics-related (links here and here). That should be a carbon footprint reducer, no?
EKN: You would think so but the Olympic Village and the BRT plowed through many Favelas, removing hundreds of families and businesses. The route of the BRT is also problematic — one of the routes goes from the airport to a wealthy area without going through downtown. Very ineffective.
BRT will play a significant role in transporting fans to and from this weekend’s Final Four in Minneapolis. GreenSportsBlog is heading to the Twin Cities and will report on what, arguably, is the greenest stadium and arena inventory of any metropolitan area in North America.
As far as the basketball is concerned, I picked Michigan State to beat Virginia in the championship game before the tournament began and so will stick with that².
WHAT ABOUT THE WOMEN’S FINAL FOUR?
Friday night’s semifinal matchups for the 2019 Women’s Final Four in Tampa feature two-time national champion Baylor vs. Oregon, seeking its first title. The nightcap is a battle of true women’s hoops heavyweights: Defending champion Notre Dame vs. 11-time winner UConn.
From a Green-Sports perspective, the University of Oregon looks to be the favorite, but all four schools have a story to tell.
The Eugene-based university is a member of the Green Sports Alliance, as is the PAC-12 Conference. It participates in the league’s Zero-Waste Challenge, a series of waste-reduction competitions that engage fans in sustainability, develop best practices, and provide an outlet for friendly environmental competitions. And Sabrina Ionescu, the Ducks’ All America guard, took part in a PAC-12 Team Green promotional 15 second video.
Sabrina Ionescu, University of Oregon’s 1st team All American guard (Photo credit: Sabrina Ionescu)
Baylor University, located in Waco, Texas, has been recycling since 2015, at McLane Stadium, the 45,100-seat home of Bears football.
Notre Dame’s Green-Sports initiatives are mainly focused on waste generated at Notre Dame Stadium, the 80,795-seat cathedral of Fighting Irish football. The Go Irish. Be Green. program features teams of volunteer students circulating through the tailgate lots, distributing blue recycle bags to fans and answering questions about single stream recycling. And they also produced this sustainability-themed video for the 2018 season.
The big question is where has this video been shown: In stadium? On Notre Dame football broadcasts? To date it has received only 64 views on YouTube.
UConn, through its EcoHusky student group, has hosted women’s and men’s Basketball Green Game Days at Gampel Pavilion over the past several years. Starting in 2017, the university’s Office of Environmental Policy purchased carbon offsets to be able to make the claim that the games were carbon-free. P.A. announcements, video board mentions, and social media posts during the events promoted the greening initiative to fans.
¹ In addition to Brogdon, the Hoops₂O team includes Justin Anderson (Atlanta Hawks), Joe Harris (Brooklyn Nets), Garrett Temple (Memphis Grizzlies) and Anthony Tolliver (Minnesota Timberwolves)
² In case you think I’m some sort of March Madness savant, think again. This is the first year in at least a decade in which my brackets weren’t busted by the Sweet 16.
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