Climate Change Will Limit Winter Olympics Host Cities

Blue sky and symbol of Olympic Games in Ice town
Blue sky and symbol of Olympic Games in Ice town | © Singulyarra / Shutterstock
Photo of Michael LoRé
Sports Editor15 January 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics begin in less than one month in Pyeongchang, South Korea. While the world’s gaze will be fixated firmly on the latest edition of the Games, their future is uncertain due to climate change.

If global emissions of greenhouse gases aren’t drastically reduced, only eight of the 21 cities that have previously hosted the Winter Olympics will be cold enough to reliably host the Games by the end of the century, according to a study by researches at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

The study was conducted by a multinational team of researchers from Canada, Austria, and China.

Climate change alters the geography of the Winter Olympic Games,” Robert Steiger of the University of Innsbruck in Austria said in a release. “The International Olympic Committee will have increasingly difficult decisions about where to award the Games, and for some regions interested in hosting a future Winter Olympics, the time to bid for the games might need to be sooner than later.”

According to the study, Albertville, France (1992); Beijing, China (2022); Calgary, Canada (1988); Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy (1956); Pyeongchang, South Korea (2018); St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928 and 1948); Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. (2002); and Sapporo, Japan (1972) will be environmentally stable enough to host the Winter Olympics in the future.

Sites including Sochi, Russia (2014); Vancouver, Canada (2010); Turin, Italy (2006); and Grenoble, France (1968) will have climates too temperate for the cold-weather Games.

“The world of winter sports is changing as the global climate continues to warm and elite winter athletes are witnessing the impacts of climate change at competition and summer training locations,” said Daniel Scott, a professor of geography and environmental management at Waterloo. “The climate in many traditional winter sports regions isn’t what it used to be, and fewer and fewer places will be able to host the Olympic Winter Games as global warming accelerates.”

Athletes voiced their opinion on the balmy conditions in Sochi at the 2014 Winter Games. Snowboarders criticized the halfpipe at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park with pipe builder John Melville blaming the weather and time restrictions for its quality, or lack thereof.

“It is a little dangerous,” American Hannah Teter, a two-time Olympic medalist, told USA Today. “I saw more people fall today than I have all season. It’s just dangerous because it’s crappy, you know?”

Cities including Sochi, Grenoble, Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, and Chamonix in France (site of the first-ever Winter Olympics in 1924) will be unable to reliably host future Winter Games because of warmer climates by the 2050s.

Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, becoming the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games.

The host city for the 2026 Games will be named at the 134th IOC Session in September 2019. Don’t be surprised if climate change is a topic of discussion at these meetings moving forward unless greenhouse emissions are dramatically reduced.

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