— Published 18 January 2023

A new hot issue for Paris 2024

The question goes far beyond the framework of a sporting event, but it is already occupying the conversations of the Olympic movement less than 600 days before the Paris 2024 Games. Should comfort be favoured or should sustainability be preferred? Or to put it another way: should we air-condition or respect the promise of a neutral carbon footprint?

At the athletes’ village (photo above), which is scheduled for delivery at the end of 2023, the answer was known. But it could change. In its specifications submitted to SOLIDEO (Société de livraison des ouvrages olympiques), the OCOG had specified that it was not planned to air-condition the athletes’ rooms. Instead, massive use was made of materials dedicated to energy performance. Priority to the fight against global warming.

A commendable approach, in line with the IOC’s commitments to sustainability. Problem: last year France experienced the second hottest summer in its history, with several heat waves. And the scenario of a new wave of high temperatures during the next Olympic Games cannot be ruled out.

Nicolas Ferrand, the managing director of SOLIDEO, was asked about this issue on Tuesday 17 January, during a press briefing on the construction site of the future Olympic village. The answer: “We are building rooms where it will be 6 degrees colder than the outside temperature“. This was the contractual commitment made to the OCOG in 2019, before the start of construction.

The calculation is easy: the athletes’ rooms could be 32 degrees, or even two or three degrees warmer, in the event of a heat wave. Conditions that are not conducive to sleep and recovery.

Nicolas Ferrand acknowledges that the only possible change at this stage of the preparation of the Games and the construction of the village would be air conditioning. “But the carbon footprint would no longer be the same,” he admits. “It’s a question of society. Do we collectively accept being at minus 6 degrees and having an excellent carbon footprint, or do we say that’s not good enough, and are we ready to degrade the carbon footprint?”

The answer does not lie with him. It will come from the Paris 2024 OCOG. Will it sacrifice its promises of an exemplary Olympic event in terms of the fight against global warming? Officially, the organisers say they are “working on the subject”. Alternative solutions are being studied, including the use of fans. A discussion is being held with the athletes’ commission.

But the pressure could soon intensify. An “influential player in the sports movement“, quoted by AFP on condition of anonymity, explains: “The OCOG wants an ecological project, but now it is confronted with reality. It is clearly a question of the temperature in the rooms. Imagine several days in a row at over 40 degrees, in rooms at 34 degrees. There are federations that are already trying to find fallback solutions, to try to find accommodation elsewhere. If they continue like this, they will empty the village.”

The prediction is premature. But the next few months are going to be tricky for the OCOG, with the prospect of a meeting in Paris of the heads of mission of foreign delegations. The meeting is scheduled for 15-17 July 2023, almost exactly at the time of the Games one year later. On the agenda is a visit to the athletes’ village. The question of the conditions of stay will no doubt be raised.

As a reminder, the IOC had imposed on the Tokyo authorities to move the walking and marathon events to Sapporo for the last Summer Games, in order to reduce the risk of high temperatures during the competitions. The initiative had a negative impact on the carbon footprint of the event, forcing teams, officials and media to fly back and forth between the capital and the Hokkaido prefecture.

At the time, the Olympic body stressed the need to respect the athletes and their competition conditions.