Truth about the Olympics
Truth about the Olympics
The Olympic games is one of the world's largest and major event which is important worldwide.


The Olympic games is one of the world's largest and major event which is important worldwide. Such kind of a large scale event is easy to convey problems or calamity messages like effects of climate change, how islands are fast disappearing, loss of flora and fauna, birds and animals becoming extinct and other environmental issues. Hence the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to create awareness strongly started changing the rules. They made it mandatory to the host countries to concentrate on environment, in a way that it benefits the country and it's people. The benefits should not be a temporary one and should continue even after the games end, especially the infrastructure that was built for the games. Countries bidding for the games have to add environment and sustainability in their agenda. Hosting the games has not benefitted many countries but infact have suffered huge losses and ended up paying huge debts, mainly because the cost was underestimated and the economic benefits overestimated. Here we shall talk only about the summer Olympics and from the time IOC started concentrating on the environment and went green.


The games began in Olympia, South west Greece more than 2700 years ago. For the ancient Greeks it was one of the biggest and most loved event. A day most important on their calendar. The games were also a religious festival celebrated to honour the king of their gods, Zeus. It was held every four years where around 50,000 Greeks from all over world used to visit either to take part or to watch. In 393 AD a Christian emperor by the name Theodosius l, stopped or rather banned all "pagan" festivals and thus brought an end to the ancient Olympics. The stadium at Olympia located in the western Peloponnese peninsula,built during the 4th century BC still exists with a seating capacity of 50,000 people which was the largest at that time. Winners were not awarded medals but were instead crowned with leaf wreaths and were given a hero's welcome back home. Athletes competed for the glory of their city and the winners were seen as being touched by the gods.


Baron Pierre De Converting, born in the year 1863 was a French educator, historian and sociologist. Although being from an aristocratic family, he was a keen sportman and was into many sports such as boxing, fencing, horse riding and rowing. Inspired by the ancient Greece Olympics he started a project on reviving it. Baron strongly believed that sport was the key to developing mental energy. In 1894 he founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and designed the 5 -ring Olympic symbol in 1913. He helped support and build a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport. He also said "The important thing in life is not the triumph but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well". His original plan was to start the modern Games at his native place Paris in 1900. The idea being an enthralling one, made the delegates from 34 countries convince him to move the games early to 1896 and have it in Athens. That's how modern Olympic games started..


Most countries think hosting the Olympics is an honor to their country. They hope to profit from the event but has not been so, for especially the developing countries. It might make the country proud and bring momentary joy but that comes with huge debts. It brings more of grief than joy to it's citizens and taxpayers. This can be very hard on the developing countries such as Rio which was badly hit, as Brazil was facing the worst recession since 1930s at the time the games were held. The games conducted were the worst ever, in terms of sustainability and going green. Showing off by the host country could end up as a long term disaster. Many countries are turning down Olympics for financial and environment impacts and are very happy with their decision. According to Business Insider, "Hosting is expensive. Every game in the last 50 years has gone over the budget. The 2014 Sochi Winter Games went over its $10 billion budget by an additional $41 billion." Some of the countries like Calgary, Innsbruck, Rome, Hamburg, Oslo, Stockholm, Lviv, Krakow, Bern and Denver have turned down offers, which is a smart move so that they don't burden their citizens. Boston too pulled out of the 2024 Games bidding, when Mayor Marty Walsh felt the run-off costs would fall on the locals.

Countries have to shell out not just for hosting but even during the application and the bidding process. To host the Olympics the countries have to pay millions of dollars to submit a bid. The bidding countries sometimes pay from $50 million to $100 million which are the consultant fees, for the organizers of the event and travel expenses related to the hosting duties. Tokyo for the first bid paid about $150 million for the 2016 Olympics and lost the bid. Later for the 2020 games paid $75 million. When the countries win the bid they start construction of roads and rail tracks, expand or enhance the current airports, build the Olympic village, have 40,000 hotel rooms available and other necessary facilities required for the event. Overall the amount spent is to the tune of $5 billion to $ 50 billion only for the infrastructure. To get ready for the Olympic games countries get about 8 years to finish all the accepted constructions.


Integration of environment to the Olympic movement began in 1986, when the president of IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, declared that Environment to be the third pillar of olympism along with sports and culture.Till 1993 Olympics was just like every other big event but in 1994 Lillehammer winter Olympics, it took a new turn. It was the first environmental friendly Olympics and launched more than 20 environmental projects ,such as, not to have a negative impact on the environment, migrating birds, going smoke free and using potato based starch instead of papers and more. After the agreement was done in 1994 in co operation with UNEP, it became mandatory to include environmental programme for all cities applying to host the games. In 1996 Atlanta, Georgia was the first Olympics after the environment decision was made. But the first city to put in practice was Sydney 2000. They started with the green Olympics supported by Greenpeace.

Below are the games in order till now after environment was included as the third pillar and made mandatory:


In 1993 Sydney bidded to be the first City on the concept of going green with equal support and co operation from Greenpeace. Sydney worked very hard to maintain their green promise, by minimizing the environmental impact of the event on it's people and the planet. The Olympic venues were built using sustainable materials and designed mainly on saving energy and water. A large urban water recycling system was put in place to save approximately 850 million litres of drinking water each year which is used till today. The Sydney Olympic Park was constructed on approximately 160 hectares of land which was badly degraded. It is one of the largest urban parklands in Australia with a cycle path of 35kms and walking trails. A nice place to spend along with family and friends, it has a water play area and BBQ facilities.The venues were built for long-term sustainability usage, which are used for various local and international events.


Though the Olympics in Athens were held four years after Sydney, they didn't seem to learn anything nor did they work on sustainability.The games brought the country down to shambles economically and financially. It was estimated it would spend 4.5 billion euros for the event, but ended up spending 8.594 billion euro and does not include other infrastructure or construction costs. Greenpeace Athens mentions that Athens was very far away from sustainability. The country had the time, money and power but lacked the willingness and political support to make the games environment friendly. Costs were underestimated and benefits over estimated. The report says that it was clearly stated to them that the projects will be executed with the use of environmentally friendly technologies and materials and was also accepted by the Greek officials. Only the public means of transport was impressive. It was the sponsors such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Unilever who followed the environment protocols. They used cooling equipments that use natural refrigerants and does not destroy the earth’s climate. Greenpeace states that the environmental record of the Athens games is very poor.

The Green energy sector was a failure. All electricity used at the premises and by it's users was to be generated by renewables,but, the green energy produced for and distributed were close to zero. There was no solar energy or photovoltaic cells (PV) at the venues. No solar thermal systems, both for hot water supply as well as for solar cooling. The reason for this could partly be that the organizing authorities had not made any effort to add the environment in their plan mainly because the IOC failed to enforce the environmental regulations mentioned in the Olympics charter. As a result, the Athens Organizing Committee and the Greek government failed to deliver on their commitments to abide by basic environmental standards, such as the use of solar power and recycling and waste management.


Beijing Olympics made everyone happy including the UN. According to their level of air pollution this may seem small but great efforts have gone in controlling it. China made a profit of about $170 million from the Beijing Olympics. The revenues were generated from the sponsorship sales and from the television broadcast rights. The expenditures on which the money was spent on were transport and medical services, accommodation,and other temporary event infrastructure.China made 93 new sports facilities, including the Birds Nest stadium and the Watercube swimming complex, many non-sports infrastructures, expansion of the capital’s subway system and spent for the support for the closing of factories and power stations to clean the city’s notoriously smoggy air. They did more than what they had promised to curb air pollution.

Beijing spent about $17 billion to support environmental enhancements and green projects which was literally way beyond their sustainable goals. They created a lasting impression in the years to come. In terms of air quality they almost succeeded in complete phaseout of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons, gases that contributes to the global greenhouse effect. The ultimatum was for 2030 but China already acheived it. They had stringent rules and tighter emission standards. During the games they closed many companies and restricted traffic for clearer air quality. They were able to cut carbon monoxide pollution by 47 percent, particulate matter levels by 20 percent. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, the main sources of acid rain pollution, fell by 38 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Due to their sincere effort the "blue sky days" increased from 180 in 2000 to 274. This continued even after the Olympics season. The city's solid waste recycling goals increased by 5 percent, and the recycling at the games facilities went 23 percent higher than the targeted rate. Twenty percent of the energy used at the venues were from renewable energy sources, even though 40 percent of them rely on coal. Beijing planted more than 30 million trees and bushes to establish 720 green spaces in the city center.UNEP says they could have done much more if closely worked with non profits to create environmental awareness.


London is another success story. Even till today, the sustainability benefits of the Olympics venues can be seen. The creation of the Olympic park was one of the greatest achievements London has ever done. It was built on contaminated industrial land and turned into Europe's largest new urban parkland in 150 years.The Park’s Energy Centre was constructed with innovative biomass boilers that burns woodchips and other sustainable fuels. This helps to supply heating and cooling to buildings throughout the Park and it still continues to serve the community. The stadium and venues were built with surplus gas supply pipes. The Velodrome, , was built using 100% sustainably-sourced timber, while recycled copper was used to build the Copper Box thus reducing the water used by 40% , by recycling rainwater.

It is the first Olympic Games where the carbon footprint was measured through out the project and also the first to achieve – a ‘zero waste’ to landfill target through the strategic Zero Waste Games Vision. They achieved it by saving the equivalent of 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 100% of the waste escaped the landfill, with 62% of that waste being reused, recycled or composted. Also 99% of the waste from installing and decommissioning the Games venues was reused or recycled.The government played a supporting role by encouraging the citizens and local community groups to provide practical information, help and advice about sustainable living and in return awarding them grants. This kind of interactive projects encouraged people to understand and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Right from growing food to reducing energy to becoming more active by walking and cycling more. The London games won gold in the Environmental and Sustainability category of the 6th International Sports Event Management awards.


Olympics in Rio was a total flop show. The country was already facing recession from the 1930's, then a loss of $7 billion in tourism due to Zika and later hosted the Olympics. The spectators and athletes too withdrew fearing zika. The government did make arrangements for extra 2000 health care professionals, paying them added to the country's debt crisis. Olympics cost the Brazilian government approximately $13.1 billion to host ($3.5 billion over budget), plus an additional $8.2 billion in infrastructure upgrades and renovations. The loss was also partly due to nonsustainability practices. The water to be used for the events were highly contaminated with raw sewage and "superbacteria", adding to health concerns.

Rio promised "Green Games for a Blue Planet" but Brazil missed the opportunity to tackle pollution and create a more sustainable city. The country was only airing visuals of the impact of rising sea levels, if climate change did not stop. Though there were many participants who were from various countries looking forward to voice their problems, such as their islands were fast disappearing due to climate change, but nothing was done. All they did was represent the Olympic rings in a form of trees, and every athlete was invited to plant a tree as part of the games. Athletes were served sustainable certified fish and meat , while waste was kept to a minimum. leftovers were given away as meals to the homeless. The medals were of sustainably extracted and recycled metals but the customary bouquets of flowers were eliminated feeling it was unsustainable. Much before the games opened Rio also admitted that the heavily polluted Guanabara Bay cannot be cleaned in time for the events.Olympic sailors and windsurfers were warned to avoid ingesting water or risk respiratory illnesses, diarrhoea and vomiting. Sanitation is another big issue in Rio, more than 50% of the people do not have basic sanitation. As a result, raw sewage is simply pumped into the sea.

Instead of expanding or renovating existing places they built a new one on the protected Marapendi nature reserve. Rio managed to construct a new bus rapid transport network, light rail line and extension of the city's metro.Rio did mention that the new infrastructure will increase daily commutes by mass transit from 18 percent to 63 percent but the new metro line was helpful only for workers living in poorer areas in the north of the city. All these routes were only to the Olympic venues and not the city on the whole so it did not actually tackle the city's transport issues. The development was done only on new wealthy neighborhoods surrounding the Olympics site. Rio promised to plant 24 million trees but ended up planting only eight million. The country is still in debts. The games did not help the country in anyway. It's in a sad state now.


Tokyo 2020's sustainability concept was "Be better, together - For the planet and the people." Japan won the 2020 games by bidding $12 billion, pushing their rival Italy out of the hosting spot. . The postponement due to the covid pandemic added an additional $2.8 billion. It is the first country to source all the required gold, silver snd bronze from high-tech rubbish of about 80,000 tonnes of phones, laptops and gaming machines from the general public, enough to produce 5000 medals. New venues were built with energy saving technologies and powered with renewable energy. Transportation was by hydrogen fuelled vehicles. Tokyo cut down the consumption of single use plastic containers. Podiums and torchbearers uniforms were made from recycled plastic bottles. They innovated a technique of making the normal invisible gas burn with a charismatic color so it can fuel the Olympic flame. Hydrogen powered cars and buses were running in the city and also electricity in the athletes village was hydrogen. Entire event to be carbon neutral. Recycled cardboard beds. Podiums are 3-D printed from household plastic waste and new buildings used timber in a bid to limit emissions.

Inspite of all the above Tokyo could not beat Sydney, London and China. Their Olympics games was designed around sustainable development goals which was not seen.. They recycled plastics but didn't ban plastics. Instead of having projects to direct air capture (DAP) they had projects to reduce future emissions and not remove existing ones from the atmosphere. The games’ leading timber supplier, Korindo, had cut down many tropical rainforests in Indonesia and allegedly illegally stolen land from local communities, according to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). 117,000 sheets of Korindo timber were used to build the new Olympic stadium in Tokyo. According to RAN’s campaign the stadium construction has costed habitat loss for orangutans and other critically endangered species, along with massive human and workers’ rights abuses. Japan has the world's best public transport, highest level of energy efficiency, and effective system of waste management but still abandons concrete and mountains of plastic into the ocean. Out of all the countries it still stands in third place.


During their opening ceremony RIo stated to the International Olympic Committee that sustainability is their key focus but broke their promise. The Olympic movement's strategy in future is for the host cities to carefully look into sustainability while they are planning and staging the Olympic Games. It is mostly the developed countries who have benefitted while the developing ones have suffered heavy losses. The countries should understand now that sustainability, eco friendly and climate change is something what every country, state, district and individual is following. If something goes wrong, everybody or anybody has the right to question. If the host cities want to develop their place and help their citizens they would go to any extent to use Olympics as an excuse to atleast develop their country. Things should not be done to please the Olympic committee. From what we have seen so far, it has become a money making industry with the committee, wherein the host countries have to pay heaps for the application and the bidding process. Another thing could be that given 8 years for the host countries, costings are likely to fluctuate, could be one of the reasons for increase over the budget.The committee having made environment as the third pillar should also be taking Olympic games to various countries in order to use the games to develop that country. In the end whether the committee fails or the host countries, we all still have to bear the brunt together. Without this unity and co operation from all, to back up each country, the true meaning of Olympic games and sustainability is lost. I think it's time we put all these issues aside and join together in protecting our environment, the flora and fauna and of course the future generations too. The Olympic games is not only for the rich or poor but if hosted sensibly could help even developing nation's to better their economy and their tourism too. Of course the other side of it would also be the political issue which surely can be tackled by various organizations, such as Greenpeace, WWF, the Olympic committee and others together. After all it's not only their problem it's even ours too. Doesn't make sense that air is different everywhere and does not spread. Why are innocent animals in places like Artic and Antarctic struggling for the things we have created. From the financial point of view it is sensible that countries are rejecting Olympics but if the meaning of Olympic games changes, we are sure every country would embrace it, atleast to change their country and attract revenue. Hence apart from IOC's strict standards in sport, they are also concentrating on environment and sustainable development. The IOC must respect the environmental component of the Olympic Games and ensure the mistakes made by Athens, Rio or Tokyo are not repeated by future host cities. The host countries have to find ways to use the infrastructures made for the games instead of leaving it unused. Understandable that maintenance costs are indeed high for these structures but a properly planned strategy at the time of bidding will definitely help. WWF urges, the governments learn from the environmental wins and losses and integrate the environment in its overall development policy. "Beyond excellence in sports, the Olympic Games should also be a showcase for the highest environmental standards and sustainable development," said Demetres Karavellas. "The IOC and the promoters of candidate cities must ensure they do not leave behind a legacy of environmental degradation."Part of the problem, Lago says, has been that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insists on standards for the games' facilities that make it difficult to use existing infrastructure and tends to favor expensive bids with more opportunities for investors. Rio made a lot of mistakes, "but we need to see it's also the IOC that creates the wrong incentives. The Olympic Games always has problems. If worked in full co operation and understanding with sustainability as the core focus, what Baron Pierre de Coubertin, started could be for a good cause. What has been Ancient and modern Olympics, let's stop it there and not have another one coming in future with the modern Olympics gone.