It’s not just winter sports that are being affected by climate change.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has confirmed work is underway “to address the consequences of climate change to the organization of worldwide sport,” year round.

“Of course, a special focus is winter sport. First of all, because there it is most obvious already. But it also applies to summer sports,” Bach said during a recent media roundtable about the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

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The IOC has separate Future Host commissions to deal with bids for the Summer Games and for the Winter Games, and he said both are working on the issue, “so these studies and deliberations are underway.”

But it was the Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games that was singled out by IOC officials last December to study the impact of climate change, delaying a decision on the host of the 2030 Winter Games.

The commission was tasked with looking at the possibility of rotating future Winter Games among a group of hosts able to provide consistently cold conditions, as well as whether the 2030 and 2034 Olympics should be awarded together.

Bach, who has previously ruled out naming a 2034 host before his term as president ends in two years, said in December that a “double allocation” of the Winter Games would give the IOC “some time to then establish a sound rotation system.”

Salt Lake City, site of the 2002 Winter Games, is bidding to host again in either 2030 or 2034 but prefers the later date to avoid competing for domestic sponsorships with the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Other 2030 bidders include Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada; as well as places in Sweden, Switzerland and the latest entry in the race, France. Under the IOC’s new, less formal bid process, there is no timeline for Games hosts to be named.

When should the Summer Games be held?

A number of places are already talking with the IOC about hosting the Summer Games as soon as 2036, but it’s not clear what’s being contemplated to deal with climate change when it comes to heat.

An IOC spokesman said only that the Future Host Commission for the Summer Games “continues to look into the important topic of climate change. Its next regular meeting will be held in November” in a statement to the Deseret News.

Both of the Future Host commissions, established in 2019, “have a dual role to: monitor and encourage interest in Olympic hosting; and to explore future opportunities and challenges, to ensure resilience for the Olympic Movement and sport,” the statement said.

“Clearly one of the most pressing topics today for sport and the world at large is climate change. Both Commissions are studying the current and potential future impact of climate change on the organization of sports events.”

The statement notes the commissions report to the IOC Executive Board. Bach and the other members of the board, as well as the full IOC membership, are scheduled to be updated in October by the Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games.

Mark Conrad, director of the sports program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business in New York City, said he’s not surprised that the IOC is looking at the impact of climate change on summer as well as winter Olympics.

“But we really don’t know what that is going to mean,” Conrad said, suggesting the IOC should be looking at moving future Summer Games into the cooler months of spring and fall rather than a potential rotation.

The IOC needs to be “more flexible with dates wherever they’re going to have it. Even if they have permanent locations, I don’t think that solves the problem,” he said. Rising temperatures “are not going away. It seems to be hotter in more places than ever.”

There have been some exceptions to the July and August dates for the Summer Games, most recently for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, which started in mid-September to accommodate the Southern Hemisphere’s seasonal differences.

Conrad said it’s Olympic broadcast rights-holders who push for the Summer Games to be held in July and August. For the lucrative U.S. market, those months are typically when networks air reruns before the fall launch of new programming.

The dates are also timed to a lull in other sporting events, according to Reuters.

NBC, which holds the U.S. rights to broadcast the Olympics through the 2032 Summer Games in Brisbane, Australia, announced in May at least nine hours of daytime coverage of the Paris Games is planned in addition to a three-hour primetime show nightly.

Heat ‘must be a significant consideration’

“As long as the Olympics are going to be in August, you’re going to have risks, I think, just about anywhere,” Conrad said, citing the record-breaking heat waves sweeping across the globe, making this year the hottest ever.

“I don’t think any place is safe from that,” the professor said, calling climate change “a situation that is very scary. We’re seeing these kinds of temperatures in places we’re not used to seeing them.”

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s bidding for another Olympics, said the IOC “very forward looking” when it comes to climate change.

“Thinking and planning ahead is a strength of the IOC and we appreciate their leadership, especially in this area,” Bullock said. “Winter sport is already being impacted and factoring in climate change for hosting Winter Games is essential.”

He said the bid committee is working with the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy at the University of Utah to come with data sought by the iOC, including whether Olympic venues can be counted on to remain consistently cold enough in coming years.

Heat during the Summer Games also “must be a significant consideration. It is critical to ensure that the athletes have conditions to perform at their best and that health risk from heat is eliminated,” Bullock said.

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The IOC already has plans in place to deal with a heat wave during next year’s Paris Olympics, Bach said, just as there was for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, delayed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have some very good experience with our heat mitigation measures in Tokyo,” he said, during a “very humid” heat wave that made those Games likely the hottest ever held. The measures “worked very well,” Bach said, and are available for the 2024 Summer Games.

Put together by the new IOC “Adverse Weather Impact Expert Working Group” created in 2018, the mitigation efforts included developing an “algorithm of treatment” for managing heat stroke at sports competitions, and shifting some competition start times and locations.

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Still, the conditions hit athletes and others hard at the Tokyo Games, even though most of the health-related headlines coming from those Olympics were about containing the spread of COVID-19.

Makoto Yokohari, a professor in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of Tokyo and an adviser to the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, described the conditions as “almost like you are in a sauna or something like that,” to NPR during the Olympics.

In that interview, Yokohari also questioned whether future Summer Games could safely be held in the summer months.

“We say ‘Summer Olympics,’” Yokohari said, “but (the International Olympic Committee) should adjust it to maybe fall or early spring. And that will be the only way that I think most of the cities in the world will be able to host the Olympic Games.”

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