By Katie McBeth
The Olympic Summer Games are fast approaching, and sport’s fans around the world are starting to feel Olympic Fever. Yet this year is full of issues. From the spread of a virus with little background or research, to the closing of soup kitchens in the poor districts due to underfunding and a financial crisis in the host city of Rio de Janeiro; the drama has been building for well over a year.
Some have considered if viewers should boycott the Summer Games in Rio. Or do the Games provide a serious benefit to the sporting world and potentially everyone around the globe?
It’s no doubt that this year’s Games will be a benchmark in the history of the Olympics. Already positive news is being made concerning the latest team to join the Games: the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA). On top of this, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has promised further developmental progress in women-lead sports and leadership opportunities; a major benefit for female athletes around the globe.
Yet the question remains: What can the Rio Olympics do for the world, and, more specifically, our world’s environment? What is the IOC doing to combat emissions, toxins, and other environmental hazards during the games, and what can we expect to see – environmentally – for Brazil’s future?
Let’s explore the environmental impact of the Rio Olympic Summer Games, which start the 5th of August and run through the 21st, and what the International Olympic Committee plans for a more “green” future of the Games.
Changing the Emphasis
There’s an eerie history that has followed most Olympic Games: the abandonment of Olympic stadiums.
The seemingly skeletal remains of the once grand stadiums litter the countryside of past-host cities such as Athens, Greece; Sarajevo, Bosnia; and Montreal, Canada. The amount of money that went into these arenas was wasted immediately after the Games ended, and the countryside is forever scarred by their presence.
Finally, these monstrous remains are beginning to attract the attention of the IOC.
Recently, there has been a major shift in international concern for environmental sustainability. The IOC is not immune to this important shift in environmental emphasis, and has recently placed a higher emphasis on sustainable design. During the construction phase of the Rio Olympics, the IOC made sure to put emphasis on improving existing structures and providing new ones that could be used long after the Games concluded. In a press release on the Olympic website, they stated their emphasis was on the legacy of the Olympics for the host city. They are boasting redeveloped ports and vibrant cultural attractions, plans for developing schools over the handball courts after the Games, and an improved waste management system for the entire city, among other benefits.
Olympic partner GE will also be improving the lighting in the parks – more energy efficient and brighter street lighting – and improved medical equipment for the local hospitals. Another IOC partner, DOW (the chemical company), will be ensuring the Rio Olympics are the most environmentally safe Games to date. Dow has put into motion a “low-carbon solution” to reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse chemicals released during the production process and actual Games.
Despite this concern for greenhouse chemicals, the Olympic Committee is still adding some harmful toxins into the air through pesticides.
Rio is in the heart of the infected zone for the Zika Virus, a new and dangerous disease that spreads through mosquitoes and intercourse. Health concerns surrounding athletes have caused at least ten to drop out of the Games all together, and some to go as far as cryogenically freezing their sperm.
This has caught the attention of the IOC. Although they are not concerned to the point of postponing the Games, they are providing mosquito repellent to all their committee members, volunteers, and athletes. The Rio Games will mark the first time the Olympics have signed on with an official “repellent sponsor” – the Wisconsin-based brand OFF!
The amount of mosquito repellent being used on attendees, as well as the amount of larvicide being used to kill larvae in the water, has some health officials concerned. Prior to health officials discovering the link between Zika and microcephaly (a dangerous birth defect), officials in Brazil blamed the overuse of pesticides for the rise in infants born with microcephaly. Now, WHO and other international health organizations have agreed that pesticides are not responsible, but can help reduce the amount of infected patients with Zika.
However, pesticides still pose a major problem for other important insects in the area. Even in the United States – where declining bee numbers are beginning to raise concerns – we are all too aware of the harmful effects of pesticides on our environment. Brazil is historically known to use risky pesticides in their local produce farms (risky meaning they have been banned from the domestic market), and the addition of larvicide to combat mosquitos might add to the rising cases of sickness due to toxic exposure.
The Future of Green Olympics
Despite the fears of spreading Zika internationally, and the financial setbacks of the host city, Rio de Janeiro, the Olympics will continue on this year. The IOC will most likely leave the city as soon as the Games end, with the hope that the facilities and infrastructure built will be utilized by the community that remains.
The next Summer Games will be in Tokyo in 2020, and there is some promising work being done already for the Tokyo Games. The highest priority for the organizers appears to be sustainability and ‘minimal impact Games.’ The IOC will continue to carry on their promise for a greener development plan, without losing the powerful emotional significance of the Olympic Games.
Whether you choose to support the Games or not, the IOC is leading an excellent example for environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility.
About the author: Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, eating mac ‘n cheese, and attending indie concerts in small bars. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.