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Leading heat physiologists Professor Mike Tipton and Dr Jo Corbett warn that intense heat at the Paris Olympics could lead to competitors collapsing and in worst case scenarios dying during the Games.

18 June 2024

3 minutes

Leading athletes are warning that intense heat at the Paris Olympics in July-August 2024 could lead to competitors collapsing and in worst case scenarios dying during the Games.

Eleven Olympians, including winners of five World Championships and six Olympic medals, have come together with climate scientists and leading heat physiologists Professor Mike Tipton and Dr Jo Corbett from the 鶹AV to unpack the serious threat extreme heat poses for athletes in a .

Dr Corbett, Associate Professor of Environmental Physiology in the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the 鶹AV, said: “A warming planet will present an additional challenge to athletes, which can adversely impact on their performance and diminish the sporting spectacle of the Olympic Games,. Hotter conditions also increase the potential for heat illness amongst all individuals exposed to high thermal stress, including officials and spectators, as well as athletes.”

“For athletes, from smaller performance-impacting issues like sleep disruption and last-minute changes to event timings, to exacerbated health impacts and heat related stress and injury, the consequences can be varied and wide-ranging. With global temperatures continuing to rise, climate change should increasingly be viewed as an existential threat to sport,” said Lord Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics and four-time Olympic medallist.

Jo Corbett and Jamie Farndale heat teasting

Dr Jo Corbett (right) conducting heat chamber tests in the University's Extreme Environments Laboratory with Jamie Farndale, a rugby 7s player for Great Britain.

The Tokyo Games became known as the "hottest in history," with temperatures exceeding 34°C and humidity reaching nearly 70 per cent, leading to severe health risks for competitors. The Paris Games have the potential to surpass that, with climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels contributing to record heat streaks during the past months.

2023 was the according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and 2024 has continued this streak. April 2024 was warmer globally than any previous April in the record books, said experts at .

The Rings of Fire report discusses the deadly heatwave in France in 2003 – which killed over 14,000 people – and subsequent years of record-breaking temperatures, exceeding 42°C. It underscores the heightened risk of extreme heat during the Paris Olympics, especially considering the significant rise in the region’s temperatures since the city last hosted the Games a century ago.

The report has 5 recommendations for sporting authorities. These include:

  • Smart scheduling to avoid heat extremes, 
  • Keeping athletes and fans safe with better rehydration and cooling plans, 
  • Empower athletes to speak out on climate change, 
  • Boost collaboration between sporting bodies and athletes on climate awareness campaigns, 
  • Reassess fossil fuel sponsorship in sport.  

President of Athletics Kenya, General Jackson Tuwei said: “The findings of this report are grave, but they are unsurprising to us as a country that this year has received such vivid reminders of the devastating impacts of climate change - most recently in the floods that claimed so many lives in April and May. Challenges are mounting for athletes regarding air pollution, food and water insecurity and lack of shade. And, as this report makes especially clear, the challenges of climate-change induced extreme heat for athletes are extensive and pose risks of devastating outcomes.”

Dr Jo Corbett

A warming planet will present an additional challenge to athletes, which can adversely impact on their performance and diminish the sporting spectacle of the Olympic Games,. Hotter conditions also increase the potential for heat illness amongst all individuals exposed to high thermal stress, including officials and spectators, as well as athletes.

Dr Corbett, Associate Professor of Environmental Physiology

“It is not in an athlete’s DNA to stop and if the conditions are too dangerous I do think there is a risk of fatalities,” says Jamie Farndale, a rugby 7s player for Great Britain.

New Zealand tennis player and Olympic bronze medallist Marcus Daniell: “At [the Tokyo Olympics] I felt like the heat was bordering on true risk - the type of risk that could potentially be fatal. One of the best tennis players in the world [Medvedev] said he thought someone might die in Tokyo, and I don't feel like that was much of an exaggeration [...]. We sometimes have to play in conditions where an egg can literally be fried on the court. This is not fun or healthy. Heatstroke is relatively common in tennis.”

The highest-ranking triathlete in Indian history, Pragnya Mohan describes being exposed to “scary” dangers “that can be fatal” as “your body feels like it’s shutting down” and recounts how she can no longer train in her home country because of the heat.

Sam Mattis, American track and field athlete, discus thrower (Olympian and gold medallist at the 2019 Outdoor USA Track and Field Championships): “Unfortunately, in the US, athletes dying from heat stroke is not new. As extreme heat events become more commonplace, and the stakes remain unchanged for athletes (perform or go broke), it seems likely that it will happen again.”

The report, produced by and FrontRunners, concludes by urging the sporting community to address these concerns and implement a series of athlete-inspired recommendations to ensure competitor safety and well-being. It highlights the urgent need to listen to athlete voices and place greater emphasis on protecting athletes and the fabric of sport as climate concerns intensify.

Rings of Fire: Heat Risks at the 2024 Paris Olympics

Leading athletes are warning that intense heat at the Paris Olympics in July-August 2024 could lead to competitors collapsing and in worst case scenarios dying during the Games. 11 Olympians, including winners of five World Championships and six Olympic medals, have come together with climate scientists and leading heat physiologists from the 鶹AV to unpack the serious threat extreme heat poses for athletes in a new Rings of Fire report.

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