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  • Sustainability and the Olympic Movement


    On World Environment Day, Around the Rings presents this commentary from Canadian environmental consultant David Crawford on how the Olympics fit in with the concept of sustainability, now a key part of every Olympics bid.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily refelect the views of Around the

    The Olympic Movement is not immune to the intense global discussion about the balance between nature?s harmony and the maintenance and growth of human life, commonly referred to as sustainability. In the late 1980s a joke within the Olympic Movement described the state of environmental concern at that time:

    ?Would you rather host the Olympic Games or a swarm of locusts? Definitely not the Olympics, at least a swarm of locusts give the environment a chance to recover next year.?

    This joke is not far from the truth. Not so long ago citizens who lived near a Winter Olympic bobsleigh and luge track became concerned in the lead up to the Games when they learned ammonia was the coolant used in the track?s cooling system. Even a minor ammonia leak could have injured or killed many local residents. When challenged about their cavalier environmental attitude, the Winter Olympic Organizing Committee offered to provide all residents with a gas mask.

    Evolution of sustainability within the Olympic Movement

    The International Olympic Committee officially embraced the environment as the third pillar of the Olympic Movement in 1994. This led to the creation of the Sport and Environment Commission in 1995. A significant part of the motivation to embrace environmental issues was generated in the early 1990s in Norway.

    Many Norwegians were upset about the negative effects of proposed activities in preparation for the 1994 Winter Olympics. Local culture combined with citizen-activism forced the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee to adopt environmentally friendly changes to its plans. One of the shining examples from the 1994 Winter Olympics was the cooperation among all levels of government, conservation organizations and the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee.

    Two positive examples of this cooperation were the construction of the Hamar ?Viking Ship? Olympic Hall in a manner that did not disrupt a local nature reserve, and local decisions that led to a reduction in noise and air pollution from commercial traffic in the town of Hamar.

    The 1994 Winter Olympics could have been a public relations disaster, due in large part to local environmental concerns. But the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee demonstrated to the Olympic Movement that environmental issues could be addressed in a positive manner. For this reason Norway?s role in the decision to add the environment as the third pillar of the Olympic Movement should not be understated. Lillehammer?s legacy is that it will be known as the ?first green Games?. The Australian Olympic Committee were obviously paying close attention as they prepared their own bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympic Games.

    The Australians addressed environmental and social issues with much enthusiasm under the wider concept of sustainability. The Sydney organising committee went so far as to partner with Greenpeace, the environmental group, to draft Sydney's environmental policies, and as a result, the 2000 Olympics are now known as the ?Greenest Game
    Environmental consultant David Crawford. 
    s?. While the 2000 Olympics were not perfect, they set the new standard for sustainability within the Olympic Movement. In particular the Australians made significant achievements in pollution abatement, energy conservation, social equity, waste avoidance, biodiversity preservation, and water conservation. The Sydney Olympics? record of sustainable accomplishments clearly was not matched by Athens 2004. What will be accomplished in 2008 by the Beijing organizers remains to be seen.

    The competition to host the 2012 Summer Olympics is predictably fierce. Only a few weeks remain until a final decision is made. Not since Sydney won the right to host the 2000 Summer Olympics in the early 1990s has so much attention been focused on sustainability issues. All five of the 2012 Candidature Cities have strategically integrated sustainability commitments into their bids.

    Will these commitments influence IOC members? The next article in this series will evaluate the technical strengths and weaknesses of sustainability commitments made by the five 2012 cities and their respective efforts to communicate these commitments to IOC members.

    Each of the five cities bidding for the 2012 Summer Olympics has made environmental sustainability a key component of their campaigns. But when and how did the environment become such an important part of the Olympic Movement? Around the Rings explores the issues surrounding the environment and the Olympics in a special, three-part series by David Crawford of the Manitoba Product Stewardship Corporation, a non-profit group representing private and public organizations.

    Watch for Part Two of this series at Exclusively for subscribers!