Image credit:
Denis Kuvaev/Canva Pro
Image credit:
Denis Kuvaev/Canva Pro
Sports Business/06/25/2024

Paris 2024: How sustainable can the Olympic Games be?

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The Summer Olympics in Paris 2024 want to prove their sustainability more than ever before. The ambitions are there, as is the pressure. But what will actually remain in the end and where are we looking a little too much through green glasses?

Major sporting events have an incomparable power. They trigger unbelievable euphoria, nations celebrate and unite, for a short time the world seems to stand still and people forget their worries, fears and hardships. Goosebumps while watching, experiencing golden moments for eternity. Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to have been there can understand this.

The biggest sporting event on the planet is the Summer Olympics. From July 26 to August 11, a total of around 11,200 athletes are expected in Paris, with almost 10 million tickets available for 329 decisions. For comparison: 100 years ago, the Games also took place in the French capital. Back then, "only" just under 3,000 athletes took part in 126 competitions. Around 100 journalists reported on the Games back then.

The challenges at today's events are huge. The IOC (International Olympic Committee), as the organizer of the 33rd Summer Olympics, has set itself ambitious goals. They want to stand for equality, they want the Games to be inclusive and they want to set new standards in terms of sustainability. And they have to, because gone are the days when organizers plough through metropolises for sporting events, making them blossom in the short term, but often leaving only barren and destroyed hectares behind in the end.

It is therefore fitting that, in Paris, the IOC is coming up against a metropolis of millions that has long since stopped putting up with everything and has been impulses to reclaim its quality of life. The awareness of the need to reduce the ecological footprint of global events has never been greater. The need is more urgent than ever. So where do the organizers want to fit in and what paths are being taken in terms of sustainability?

Grand Palais in Paris 2024: Iconic venue, modernized for the Olympic Games, with sustainable transport links and impressive architecture.
Image credit:
Mirco Magliocca/Paris Press 2024

Reducing the CO₂ footprint is the big goal

If the organizers of Paris 2024 have their way, CO₂ emissions will be more than halved compared to previous events such as London 2012 (3.4 million tonnes) and Rio de Janeiro 2016 (3.6 million tonnes). During the competition days and through the construction of new competition venues and facilities for the athletes, Paris aims to limit its carbon footprint to a maximum of 1.6 million tons. For comparison: Berlin emits around 15 million tons of CO₂ annually.

In order to be able to present itself as a climate-neutral Games in the end, the emissions that cannot be avoided are to be offset by environmentally friendly projects such as reforestation. That is good. But it is also clear that "carbon offsetting will not stop climate change," says climate researcher Roger Pielke. Technical progress and political decisions will. Both are on the agenda in Paris. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that major sporting events produce large quantities of CO₂.

Less new construction, more use of existing buildings

This concept was already met with applause and acceptance at the 2022 European Championships in Munich. Paris is not quite as exemplary, but a rethink is taking place. The aim is to limit the structural footprint by using 95 percent existing and temporary infrastructure. After all, the city on the Seine already offers many possibilities and magnificent backdrops. Only the Aquactis Centre (swimming and diving competitions), the Porte de La Chapelle sports arena (badminton and rhythmic gymnastics) and the Olympic Village in the poorest Parisian suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis will be built. The aquatic center is to be used as an educational facility for children in the future, while the Olympic Village is to be converted into a lively residential area. However, some people doubt that the immediate residents will benefit from this.

"The apartments will mainly be bought by people from outside - residents can't afford apartments for around 7,000 euros per square meter," says Hamid Ouidir, representative of the residents of the Olympic Village in St. Denis. For most families and students, for whom the village is primarily intended, it will be a tough competition. Incidentally, no air conditioning was installed during the construction of the Olympic Village, which will certainly make the athletes less happy. In view of a possible heatwave, this may well become an issue during the Games.

Champions Park in Paris 2024: Sustainable venue, accessible by public transport and surrounded by new green spaces.
Image credit:
Florian Hulleu/Paris Press 2024

Harsh criticism and soft mobility

At the very least, there is a desire to use 100% renewable energy for all 41 competition venues. However, the question may be asked as to why the surfing competitions to Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, for the surfing competitions? Of course, you don't have to build an artificial surf wave, as is currently the case in many places due to the inner-city surfing trend. According to the organizers, Teahupo'o was the most sustainable option, as most of the participants in the surfing competitions come from Oceania or North America and the journey is therefore much shorter than to Central Europe.

However, the fact that a new tower for the judges is now to replace an existing wooden tower in the middle of a coral reef is causing a fierce conflict with environmentalists and residents. They feel ignored. In contrast, the concept in Paris itself seems to be working. All venues will be accessible by public transport, 80% are within a radius of 10 km and less than half an hour from the Olympic Village. A year before the start of the Games, Paris has also begun to abolish parking spaces in the city and turn the space gained into green areas. Paris will also introduce new speed limits on the city highway and ban coaches from the city center. New cycle paths have been created. The city will benefit from this in the long term. The fact that climate-friendly vehicles will be used to transport officials is nice, but also somewhat expected.

Surfing competitions in Tahiti: conflicts over new tower in coral reef despite focus on sustainability. Paris focuses on environmentally friendly transportation solutions for the Olympic Games.
Image credit:
thomas Ashlock/Unsplash.com

More drinking fountains, less meat

During the Games, 13 million meals will be served to athletes, officials, volunteers and spectators. The focus here is on sustainable, low-meat food with local and seasonal products and local partners. The aim is to minimize food waste and waste during the event. The aim is to halve the amount of single-use plastic used during the Games. So it is not possible to do without it completely. But the goal is to be achieved by reusing drinking bottles and building drinking water fountains. And if the drinking fountains are also used outside the sports venues and beyond the Games, this will help the entire city in the long term.

A legacy for future generations

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo won the race for the Olympic Games seven years ago with her "Saving the Seine" pledge to clean up the Seine so that people could swim in it again. Cleaning up the water in the Seine is probably the most costly project of these Games, as the river was a cesspool for decades. At the opening ceremony on July 26, which for the first time will not take place in a stadium, there will be a boat parade across a bright blue Seine. The aim is to show the whole world what has been achieved in Paris. At the same time, they also want the city's residents to be able to attend this event. Around 400,000 people are expected to attend. Open water swimming and triathlon swimming are planned in the river. The waters of the Seine were officially opened for swimming in March. Dozens of natural water swimming pools are now planned. French President Emmanuel Macron is euphoric: "We are about to realize one of the most beautiful legacies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games." It remains to be hoped that the city will ultimately be able to realize all of these goals. A Seine that you can still swim in next summer. Then more citizens will fall in love with the city of love again and that would probably be the most lasting benefit of these Olympic Games.

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