Problems of the Summer Olympic Games in Paris: dirty Seine, heat, safety and lack of air conditioning

With excitement mounting for the highly anticipated sporting spectacle, Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet has unveiled the commencement details for the momentous Opening Ceremony along the Seine. Set for July 26, 2024, the grandest-ever Olympic Games Opening Ceremony will kick off at 7:30 pm Paris time, marking the beginning of the XXXIII Olympiad. Following the ceremonial start, a 6km journey along the Seine will ensue, featuring captivating artistic performances set against the backdrop of Parisian landmarks and bridges. A total of 12 artistic tableaux will showcase the charm of Paris, with thousands of athletes taking to the water, accompanied by an audience of hundreds of thousands of spectators.

But both athletes and spectators will face difficulties.

Dirty water in the Seine

The cleanliness of the Seine for the triathlon and open-water swimming events remains a critical concern. Historically, swimming in the Seine has been prohibited due to hazardous pollution levels spanning over a century. However, a concerted effort towards cleanup has been underway, with significant work invested in water management and filtering stations, aimed at preparing the river for Olympic use and beyond. 

French President Macron has even pledged to personally swim in it. Scheduled for June, key tests for bacterial levels will be conducted, with a primary focus on minimizing waste runoff into the river, particularly during rainy conditions. Brazilian Olympic champion open-water swimmer Ana Marcela Cunha emphasized the necessity of a contingency plan, urging for a plan B to relocate the swimming events if the water quality falls short of safety standards.

Security difficulties

The potential for a shortened opening ceremony at the Paris Olympics due to security concerns has been highlighted by Christophe Dubi, the Executive Director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). French authorities have opted for a strict invitation-only policy for spectators attending the event. 

Dubi noted that depending on the level of threat, further restrictions may be implemented if deemed necessary. Exploring alternatives, such as relocating the ceremony to a stadium, is being considered. The opening ceremony is anticipated to draw a crowd of 300,000 attendees.

Hot Parisian summer

Heat during games can pose significant risks to athletes and spectators alike. Last summer provided a stark illustration of this concern: scorching temperatures soared to approximately 43 degrees Celsius due to the Cerberus heatwave in Southern Europe. Paris, known for its susceptibility to heat waves, experiences amplified temperatures due to the urban heat island effect. With just 10% of the city comprising public green spaces, coupled with buildings featuring heat-retaining zinc roofs and limited household air conditioning, Paris stands as one of the European capitals at the highest risk. According to Pierre Masselo, a statistician at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a study in the journal Nature Climate and Atmospheric Science revealed that heatwave temperatures could potentially rise by 4 degrees Celsius compared to those experienced during the 2003 heatwave.

The Tokyo Summer Olympic Games served as a poignant reminder of the dangers posed by extreme heat. Dozens of athletes surpassed their physical limits, prompting organizers to postpone events. Approximately 110 athletes suffered from heat-related illnesses, with outdoor venue temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius. Among them, 10 cases were severe, including instances of heatstroke, necessitating interventions such as ice baths for treatment.

Cancellation of air conditioning in favor of the “green problem”

The Olympic Athletes’ Village in Paris was constructed to reduce its carbon footprint and minimize environmental impact. The village boasts wildlife-friendly roofs, utilizes carbon-neutral building materials, and incorporates ample green spaces, including a public park. Employing natural air cooling methods and an underground water cooling system, the complex prioritizes to more ecological practices. However, notably absent from the athletes’ rooms is air conditioning, potentially exposing athletes to heat discomfort not only during performances but also during rest periods.

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