As record heat threatens Tokyo Olympics, here’s what climate change means for future sporting events


Top line

In addition to the threat of Covid-19, athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will also face the dangers of extreme heat, as soaring temperatures in the Japanese capital, spurred by climate change, are expected to make the Games this year’s hottest ever.


This year’s Summer Olympics are expected to be some of the hottest ever, with maximum temperatures expected to average around 30 degrees Celsius, or close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combined with the sweltering humidity of Tokyo, the dangerous conditions – which have prompted the government to warn residents against exercising outdoors – hamper performance and expose athletes to heat-related conditions like beating. heat, dehydration and burns, with beach volleyball players already complaining that the sand is too hot to play on.

The problem was not unforeseen for organizers, who made the decision to change event schedules and move marathon and walking events out of Tokyo in an attempt to avoid the heat, but is becoming a more pressing issue for all sporting events because climate change is raising temperatures. .

Outside of the Olympics, major tennis and football tournaments had to put in place policies to protect players from the extreme heat, triathlons and horse races in the United States were canceled due to heat waves and the world’s biggest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup, will take place in air-conditioned stadiums to avoid the worst heat of host country Qatar in 2022.

The effects of climate change are not limited to the extreme heat: the shortening of the winter seasons poses an existential threat to snow sports, severe typhoons have resulted in the cancellation of several matches of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the smoke from forest fires has disrupted many outdoor events in the United States and Australia.

Crucial quote

The International Olympic Committee declared Forbes he “takes heat concerns very seriously” and has taken a “wide range of measures” to mitigate the effect of temperature on athletes. These measures include scheduling long distance athletics and cycling events later in the day, moving horse riding and triathlon events to early mornings, and improving access to shade and at the water.

Key context

The Tokyo Medical Association pointed out that holding the games in July and August was “a serious problem even before the coronavirus pandemic” and a report by the British Association for Sustainable Sport highlighted the likelihood of impaired performance due to heat. Heat was once a problem before the event – three rowers were treated for heat exhaustion after a test event at the Tokyo Olympics in 2019 – and other sporting events around the world are increasingly encountering more similar problems. 28 of the 68 starters withdrew from a World Championships marathon held in Doha, Qatar in 2019 due to conditions, with one runner being taken in an ambulance. The race started at midnight in an attempt to avoid the worst of Qatar’s heat.

Large number

71,000. This is the number of people who requested emergency treatment for heat stroke between June and September 2019 in Japan. 118 of them died. A smaller number – 65,000 cases and 112 deaths – occurred during the same time frame in 2020, although fewer people were released due to the pandemic.

What to watch out for

Qatar’s cooled stadiums for the 2022 World Cup will likely provide some insight into how outdoor sporting events can be staged in hot weather, especially if its cooling technology is both environmentally friendly and efficient. The event should be carbon neutral, just like the next Summer and Winter Olympics, ”said the IOC Forbes. Paris 2024 should be the first “positive climate” games.

Further reading

Tokyo Olympics: Fears athletes face hottest Games on record (Guardian)

Races canceled, players passed out: Climate change puts pressure on sport (Reuters)

Playing against the clock: Global sport, the climate emergency and the case for rapid change (Rapid Transition Alliance)


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