2024 Paris Olympics

Olympic hopefuls speak out about fears of severe summer heat in Paris

Athletes are voicing concerns that climate change could make their sports dangerous.

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The Summary

  • A group of Olympic hopefuls is raising concerns about heat during the coming games in Paris.
  • Olympic organizers say they’ve prepared for challenging conditions, including by scheduling events to avoid heat.
  • Some research suggests Paris is among the European capitals most vulnerable to heat concerns.
  • Heat waves can now produce temperatures as much as 7 degrees F warmer than those in 2003, according to a study published in November.

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Ahead of the Paris Olympics, athletes are speaking out about their fears of a summer heat wave, saying the effects of climate change could erode the competition and make their sports dangerous.

In a new report, released jointly by several British and American climate advocacy and sporting organizations, 11 athletes voiced concerns about conditions at the coming Olympic Games and the longer-term challenges for sporting competitions in a warming world.

The report says temperatures in Paris in late July and early August — the period the Olympics will be held — are, on average, more than 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter today than in 1924, when Paris last hosted the event.

Jamie Farndale, who has competed with Great Britain’s Olympic rugby sevens team, said that Olympians earn their spots on the world stage by pushing their bodies to the “absolute limit” but that he worries heat in Paris could push some over the edge of what’s tolerable. 

“When things get unsafe in the sort of 30-, 35-degree temperatures, yeah, it becomes pretty dangerous,” Farndale said, referring to temperatures between 86 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. “We play six games over three days, and you can’t just cool down in between.” 

Reflecting on how he coped in past competitions, Farndale added: “We’re jumping in ice baths. We’re doing everything we can, but your core temperature just doesn’t drop. You feel sick.” 

Olympic organizers say they’ve prepared for challenging conditions. A spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee said in a statement it has scheduled events to avoid heat and developed a suite of heat tools to keep competitions safe. 

Temperatures at event venues will be closely monitored, the statement said, adding that “providing athletes and spectators with the best and safest conditions possible are top priorities for the IOC and the entire Olympic Movement.” 

Paris 2024, the local organizing committee, said France’s meteorological agency, Météo France, will be embedded in the Olympic Games’ operation center. Adjustments to the competition calendar can be made as necessary, the group added, and free water fills will be widely available to spectators. 

Some research suggests Paris is among the European capitals most vulnerable to heat concerns. In 2003, a heat wave led to 15,000 excess deaths in France; today, heat waves can produce temperatures as much as 7 degrees F warmer than those in 2003, according to a study published in November

Paris organizers have put an emphasis on reducing the carbon footprint of the Olympics. As part of that effort, geothermal cooling and natural ventilation will replace traditional air conditioning in the Athletes’ Village. The village will become permanent housing for Parisians after the event. 

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Pragnya Mohan, a Olympic hopeful triathlete from India, said the lack of AC could challenge athletes.  

“They cannot stay cool and cannot recover fast. So I think from an athlete’s perspective, that is a negative. But you know, from the green perspective, that’s a positive,” Mohan said.

The Paris 2024 committee, however, said that temperatures in athletes’ quarters are expected to be at least 11 degrees cooler than outside temperatures and that athletes will be allowed to rent “mobile cooling units.” 

“We believe we have found a good balance between our primary commitment to athlete wellbeing and our responsibility as major event organisers in the face of climate change,” a spokesperson wrote. 

Sam Mattis, a discus thrower who was on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, questioned whether the world will be able to keep holding the summer games during the hottest months of the year. Los Angeles is scheduled to host in 2028. 

“I think in a lot of places in the U.S. and around the world, summertime competitions, unless they’re held in the middle of the night, are going to become essentially impossible,” Mattis said. 

During the Tokyo Olympic Games, around 110 athletes suffered heat-related illnesses as temperatures at some outdoor venues exceeded 95 degrees F and humidity levels hit around 70%, according to a study published in April 2023. That included 10 cases of severe heat illness, including heatstroke. Several athletes needed ice baths to recover, the article said. 

In the lead-up to this year's Olympics, Paris has spent billions of euros to clean the Seine River, construct bike lanes and plant trees to shade city streets. City leaders say the investment is meant to reduce emissions long-term, beyond the Games, and adapt for warmer temperatures to come. 

“It’s dangerous for daily life,” Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Grégoire said of the heat. “We need to transform as a city as fast as possible to protect people.”

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