Climate change could threaten the Olympic Games as we know them, according to a new study in The Lancet. Only eight cities outside of Western Europe would be viable places to host the Games by 2085, according to a model that the study's authors devised.
“High-visibility international athletic events such as the Summer Olympics represent just a small fraction of heavy exertion outdoors,” the article says.
“Increasing restrictions on when, where, and how the Games can be held owing to extreme heat are a sign of a much bigger problem,” it adds.
The world’s other cities would face a higher chance of having to cancel outdoor events due to high temperatures.
“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,” said UC Berkeley professor Kirk Smith, one of the study’s authors.
The study used temperature and humidity data to predict in which cities it would be the most risky to host the Summer Games outdoors, using the marathon as a test case.
Endurance events would likely be the first casualty of high temperatures — they require a lot of space, so they’re usually held outside, and physical exertion.
And the marathon is the mother of all endurance events.
This year, only about 70% of the competitors finished the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials in Los Angeles, which were the hottest on record.
The cities included in the study were in the Northern Hemisphere (home to 90% of the world’s population), below one mile in altitude (to avoid altitude sickness) and had a population of at least 600,000 people in 2012 (as the Games are typically hosted by bigger cities).
But the study also has implications for everyone.
“Climate change is going to force us to change our behavior from the way things have always been done,” Smith said. “This includes sending your kids outside to play soccer or going out for a jog.
“If the world’s most elite athletes need to be protected from climate change,” the article says in closing, “what about the rest of us?”