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Rising costs and melting snow: Does the Winter Olympics have a future?

An increasingly warm planet and rising costs threaten the future of the Winter Games as host cities struggle with a lack of investment and profits.

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Rising costs and melting snow: Does the Winter Olympics have a future?
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07 Ağustos 2023 - 12:00
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On July 31, the deadline for companies to submit bids to build Italy’s costly new bobsleigh track for the 2026 Winter Olympics has come and gone.

And not a single construction company stood out.

The announcement was made by SIMICO, the Italian company responsible for the administration of the entire Olympic structure, and said it will now have to look to the market for companies that can take on the job.

Madeleine Orr, a sports ecologist at Loughborough University’s Sports Management Institute, London, said the project took the honor and burden of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’ Ampezzo.

“I know the organizers of the Olympics are concerned about how climate change will affect this event,” he added.

In the last two years, efforts by cities to prepare to host the Games have also been criticized by the Italian press as being too costly and environmentally unsustainable, with many pointing out that the structures built specifically for the event are useless. after the end.

The cost of the new toboggan run, which will have to be built from scratch after the old one is demolished, is estimated to be between 93 and 120 million euros, according to Luca Zaia, president of Veneto. It will need to be built quickly because it can also be used for the completed track. skeleton and sledcompetitions must be ready by December 2024 for the first test event before the Olympics.

A man watches the Olympic Village construction site in the Porta Romana old railway yard in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, March 1, 2023.

The changing face of the Winter Olympics

Speaking to Euronews, both the Winter Olympics and the Summer Olympics face several of the same problems when it comes to climate change.

“In the past, you can expect the winter to be cold and the summer to be hot,” Orr added. “We’re now seeing mild winters and even hotter summers, and in many cases we’re getting to a point where it becomes unsafe to compete in these conditions.”

When it comes to winter sports, the impact of climate change is even more dramatic. “It gets really hard to protect the track or the bobsleigh,” Orr said. “Most tracks, except one at St Moritz, are man-made and use artificial ice and snow, so they are powered by energy systems that can do a good job of keeping them relatively cold. But despite all the technology, if you have a really hot day, it will be very challenging.”

Many of the sites that hosted the last Winter Olympics had artificial snow – a very common addition normally used at most ski resorts around the world, Walker Ross, a lecturer in Sports Management and Digital Marketing at the University of Edinburgh, told Euronews.

“Every ski resort you go to has additional artificial snow because they try to stay open as long as it’s snowy, which is very common practice,” he said. “But in Beijing [the host of the last Winter Olympics], every single snowflake was artificial. And I hope it doesn’t become a forward trend.”

Swiss Wendy Holdener walks through a door during the women’s combined slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, February 17, 2022.

However, this may actually be a possible solution, especially as the number of cities capable of hosting the Winter Olympics is expected to drop significantly in the near future.

Daniel Scott, professor of geography at the University of Waterloo in Canada, 2022 researchHe found that only one of the 21 cities that hosted the old Winter Olympics by the end of the century would have the ideal temperatures to hold the Games if we did not significantly reduce emissions.

“If you take the ‘average rise in temperature’ estimates we see from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, you’ll find that half of the cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics in the past are no longer able to do so. Host the event in the future,” said Walker Ross.

These communities won’t have the temperatures to host such sports – but that may not prevent them from hosting as long as they use artificial snow, Ross said.

Germany celebrated winning a 4-man silver medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Sunday, February 20, 2022 in Beijing’s Yanqing district.

The lost legacy of games

Countries have always hosted the Olympics for the obvious benefits this has traditionally brought – Winter or Summer – including a surge in tourism, widespread sporting enthusiasm, and the opportunity to build the basic infrastructure that will be used for decades to come.

This may no longer happen in the future, as critics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezza feared.

“Not everything we build or construct now may not be usable in the future,” Ross said. “If you go to the trouble of building a giant winter sports complex, it may not be climate-friendly in the future. If our planet gets 1.5 or 3 degrees warmer in the future, that infrastructure, that legacy, that goodwill will be lost in the long run because we may not be able to enjoy that sport.”

In places like Rio de Janeiro, gyms are built in low-lying areas where occasional flooding is expected, and these events are expected to become more frequent in the future, Ross said.

“Whatever we think we’re doing now by building the Olympics, we think 50 years later we can still remember these great times we had in our city because we can do X, Y and X. Z – this may not be possible if the scenario does not change.”

Frenchman Clement Noel walks through a door during the first run of men’s slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, February 16, 2022

‘Spending money on the problem’

Rising costs and the devastating impact of the climate crisis are now proven problems that can make or break sports mega-events.

The Australian state of Victoria recently withdrew from hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games, saying the cost was too high and leaving the future of competition uncertain.

Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world with an unforgettable history of human rights abuses, has secured some of the biggest sporting events on the planet for years to come, as it is one of the few willing hosts to count on. significantly large pockets.

In 2029, the country will host the Asian Winter Games, although snow is rare in Saudi Arabia.

“The number of communities that have the capacity to host these events and the climate to host these events is dwindling pretty quickly,” Ross said. “Since these communities lack the climate to host this event, you can start turning to anyone willing to pay you to achieve this thing,” he added.

When it comes to the Winter Games, Orr thinks, “it’s going to take a bit of a step back from the really big event, the big show, because most places with a climate that can adapt to it don’t necessarily have enough tourism infrastructure to host something of this scale.” ”

“If we can change our minds a little bit about what the Olympics look like for the Winter Games and make it a little bit of a smaller event, then suddenly hosting in much smaller tourist towns becomes an option,” Orr said. .

But downsizing or cutting these events may not be what the IOC wants, both for profit and to expand access to sports, which is the IOC’s mission. “Instead of asking ourselves how to radically rethink what these events look like and where they will be hosted, I worry about what future the Olympics will have if it turns into the question of who has the money to raise this issue.”

Austrian Matej Svancer competes in the men’s incline style finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on Wednesday, February 16, 2022.

What is the future for the Winter Olympics?

The host city for the 2030 Winter Olympics has yet to be determined, but the IOC said Salt Lake City, Barcelona and Sapporo are competing.

But there may not be many options in the future. The agency said it is considering alternating the Winter Olympics between an approved pool of climate-resilient hosts, as cities may need to meet new temperature criteria as the impact of the climate crisis continues to intensify.

The IOC is currently considering a proposal that would require host cities to have below 0C average air temperature for snow race arenas for a period of 10 years until the date of the Games.

Another solution explored by the agency is the option to host both the 2030 and 2034 Games in the same city, but no concrete decision has yet been made.

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