Paris Olympics: With a year to go, climate and social concerns remain

Exactly one year from now, the next Olympic Games will start in Paris. After editions in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, it will be the first time in 12 years a Summer Olympics has taken place on European soil.

But before that happens, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) still has some wrinkles to iron out. The recent European heatwave, for example, has sparked concern for the well-being of athletes during outside events. In the last Games, organisers were forced to move the marathon and race walking events 800 km north of the host city, to avoid the heat of the Japanese capital.

The IOC will take the lessons learned from Tokyo into account and is prepared to change schedules based on temperatures in and around Paris. In the long term, the committee has commissioned studies into the impact of climate change on the international sports calendar. The 2024 Olympics will only use renewable energy and CO2 emissions will be halved compared to the 2012 edition.

"We feel great support from the French people"

Another issue looming over next year’s Olympics is social unrest in France. Paris, in particular its suburbs, has seen massive protests and riots in the past years, over issues ranging from pension reforms to police brutality.

But potential new riots do not worry the IOC, as they were not related to the Games. According to president Thomas Bach, people will encourage the athletes in the same way they do with the best cyclists in the Tour de France. "We feel great support from the French people," he said.

Transgender athletes

The participation of transgender athletes might be the most controversial topic that the sporting world is wrestling with. After the controversy surrounding US cyclist Austin Killips, who became the first transgender athlete to win a UCI women’s race in May, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) banned all transgender athletes who transitioned after male puberty from female cycling events this month.

The UCI is following in the footsteps of governing bodies from other sports, such as World Athletics, the International Rugby League and World Aquatics, all of which have implemented some kind of restriction on the participation of transgender women in its competitions.

The IOC published its framework on transgender athletes in 2021, calling for inclusion and respect for human rights. The Olympics have historically accepted transgender athletes, with New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard becoming the first openly trans woman to compete in the Olympics in 2021.

Hands-off approach faces criticism

The IOC's framework is no more than a set of loose guidelines, however, and leaves actual decisions to individual sports federations. This hands-off approach has faced serious criticism.

Czech tennis player and LGBTQ+ activist Martina Navratilova accused the IOC of passing the buck over transgender rules. Scientists working for sports federations, meanwhile, blame the organisation for ignoring science in favour of inclusion. They call on the IOC to set new standards, based on competitive fairness and the best available science, for federations to follow.

The IOC is unlikely to change its approach for the Olympics in Paris. Bach has defended the policy on several occasions, saying that “sports are very different” and there’s “no one-size-fits-all”. But good results by transgender athletes are bound to stir up controversy and might force the organisation to reassess its approach.



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