Rhein on Energy and Climate

For the last 90 years Olympic winter games have regularly alternated with summer games; and few people objected to this procedure.

The first games took place in 1924 in Chamonix with 294 athletes from Europe and North America, a two-week event organised at low cost.

90 years later, the 2014 games in Sotchi (Caucasus) raised eyebrows because of exorbitant costs ($51billion) of building installations from the scratch and considerable environmental damage.

The 2018 games will take place near Seoul in South Korea. The ski down hill events are scheduled for the “Alpensia Olympic winter park” at a height of less than 1000 metre, with only four km easy down hill runs, one km of which a black descent.

The location of the 2022 games will be decided before July 31.

After several renowned places with long winter sport experience like Oslo, Stockholm, St. Moritz, Munich have dropped out of the race because of excessive costs or public opposition, only Beijing and Almaty remain in the race.

Neither offers ideal winter sport possibilities. Both suffer from lack of snow/rain during the winter months and will have to rely on artificial snow which is expensive and non-ecological. Beijing will have to cover the 160 km distance between the ice and snow events, for which the government plans to build a train line.

Almaty, which,jointly with Astana, had organised the Asian winter games 2011 plans to organise most events within the large city, except for the 30 km distant ski events. The costs are estimated around $ five billion, which Kazakhstan can easily finance from its oil/gas revenues.

Whatever the choice for 2022, the Olympic Committee should urgently reflect on the future of winter games.

  • Climate change will increasingly restrict the number of potential locations because of the lack of snow and the need for artificial snow.
  • Unlike summer games those organised in winter interest only a small number of countries, essentially Europe, USA, Canada, Japan and Korea. It is therefore preferable to organise regional events for the few countries really interested rather than global ones.

Winter sport competitions should become world championships for skating, ice dance, curling, ice hockey, ski descents, bob descents etc. There is not much point duplicating these events with Olympic Games.

An alternative might be to organise Olympic Games at two/three permanent rotating locations in North America, Europe and Asia that thanks to existing installations and optimal snow fall still offer decent conditions for inexpensive winter sports championships.

Brussels 03.04. 2015 Eberhard Rhein

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