Fewer foreign officials at Tokyo Olympics environmental winner


New research shows that international sporting events could significantly reduce their carbon footprint – if fewer event staff attend in person.

Professor James Higham from the University of Otago’s Department of Tourism contributed to a study which found that CO2 emissions at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were significantly lower, due to fewer staff related to the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This meant that fewer International Olympic Committee officials, including referees and judges, media and marketing partners, attended the games.

As a result, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was a unique case study to study the impact of reduced international travel on the events’ CO2 emissions.

The study, led by Dr Eiji Ito of Chukyo University, did not include the very small number of spectators who would normally have visited Japan for the Olympics.

He said about 30,200 officials from other countries would take part in the Olympics, significantly less than the 141,000 originally planned.

This reduced emissions from international air travel by 129,686 tons of CO2.

“Our results indicate that taking action to reduce the number of event-related personnel attending the Olympics is an important strategy that seeks to mitigate the carbon footprint of sporting mega-events.”

Higham said he was not suggesting future events take place in empty stadiums, but that small changes could have an impact.

“We have to challenge ourselves to decarbonize these types of sporting events.”

Professor James Higham of the Department of Tourism at the University of Otago.

Future events should model their emissions and explore ways in which event design and delivery could contribute to reducing event emissions.

This could include finding local/regional officials, providing opportunities for virtual reality live streaming and online press conferences, and ensuring that all unavoidable event-related broadcasts were encrypted.

Sponsors could be challenged to report their event-related emissions to leverage their commitment to a low-carbon event.

To determine the reduction in emissions from the recent Olympics, the researchers identified the number of people visiting Japan on temporary visitor visas in July last year. They then subtracted the number of Olympic athletes, followed by visitors to Japan in June to account for non-Olympic visa holders.

“We estimated the round-trip flight distance [miles] and CO2 emissions (kg) per passenger between major and hub airports in each country and region and Narita International Airport using a Flight Carbon Calculator.”

The results were calculated by multiplying the number of incoming Olympics-related international staff by the air travel carbon emissions per passenger for each country and region.

“It shows that there is huge potential to reduce the carbon footprint of the Olympics in terms of transport and people traveling overseas to attend.”



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