THE BIG PICTURE: IOC’s bad pun in its commitment to sustainability release underlines the issue

IOC President Thomas Bach

The International Olympic Committee came out with a emotionally-worded statement entitled “IOC Takes Leadership Role in the UN Sports for Climate Action Initiative,” supporting the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Poland. The first paragraph included this:

“The Initiative was launched today by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in partnership with the IOC, at a High-Level Event of the Summit. It aims to set the course for the sports world to address climate change through concrete commitments and partnerships, while applying verified standards to measure, reduce and report greenhouse gas emissions …”

IOC President Thomas Bach stated that “the IOC treats it very seriously” and that “Sport is about action, and today the world needs urgent action to limit the rise of global temperatures.”

So why use the word “concrete” right at the start of the statement? A bad pun perhaps, as concrete is very much part of the biggest culprit in sustainability problems in the Olympic Games: new facilities.

It is construction which causes the most pain (and cost) to the environment and for organizing cities and countries, both in the run-up to the Games and afterwards.

The announcement talked about the IOC’s new guides for carbon management at Games. But where was the breakthrough policy directive by the IOC that new facilities built for Olympic Games are to be avoided?

Further, the IOC could have stated its preference to end facility development related to the Olympic Games by (1) forming a study group to consider a rotation of permanent host cities and (2) committing to reducing the number of sports at the Games, and therefore the facilities needed.

Neither was announced. And don’t hold your breath waiting for them.