US athletes to get aircon in Paris amid heat fears for Olympians

The US Olympic team will supply air conditioners for its athletes at the Paris Games, joining a handful of other countries including Australia, in a move that undercuts organisers’ plans to cut carbon emissions.

US Olympic and Paralympic CEO Sarah Hirshland said the move was aimed at safeguarding the “consistency and predictability [which] is critical for Team USA’s performance”.

“In our conversations with athletes, this was a very high priority and something that the athletes felt was a critical component in their performance capability,” she said.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Germany, Australia, Italy, Canada and Britain were among the other countries with plans to bring air conditioners to France.

Olympic organisers have touted plans to cool rooms in the athletes’ village, which will house more than 15,000 Olympians and sports officials over the course of the Games, using a system of cooling pipes underneath the floors.

Heat and health risks to athletes

The increasing number of heatwaves during the European summer was noted as a specific danger to Olympians in a report released earlier this month titled: Rings of Fire: Heat Risks at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Eleven Olympians, climate scientists and heat physiologists from the University of Portsmouth in the UK warned extreme heat could cause athletes to collapse or even die.

Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics and an Olympian, said the consequences of sleep disruption, event time changes or heat stress on an athlete’s body could be wide-ranging, and urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and French authorities to act. 

Russian tennis player Daniil Medvedev called out dangerously hot conditions during last year’s US Open, telling cameras during his quarter-final match “one player is going to die”. 

Australian rugby sevens player and Tokyo Olympian Joe Pincus told ABC RN last week that conditions at the 2021 Games, later confirmed as the hottest ever, were “really, really tricky”. 

“When that heat overtakes your body and you start not being able to make the decisions that you planned for, it can be a really overwhelming feeling,” he said. 

Paris has recorded a 2.7 degrees Celsius increase in average August temperatures since the last time the Games were hosted there in 1924, with the current average at the start of the month being 26C. 

Air conditioning is rare in Europe

The IOC has set a goal of cutting the Games’ emissions by half compared to previous Summer Olympics, and aims to do so by using 95 per cent existing infrastructure, making use of renewable energy and other eco-friendly strategies. 

“I want the Paris Games to be exemplary from an environmental point of view,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has previously said. 

The IOC plan also takes broader emissions produced by people travelling to watch the Games into account. 

According to the International Energy Agency, fewer than 1 in 10 households in Europe has air conditioning, and the numbers in Paris are lower than that.

AP/ABC

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