A BRIEF HISTORY OF OLYMPIC ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS
In 1994, the International Olympic Committee signed an agenda for Sport and Environment, which has had some successes: Vancouver, Sydney, and Salt Lake City were notable. But sometimes, a host country’s Olympic ambitions bulldoze nature in the service of “building a better world through sport.”
- •Albertville, France (1992)In 1992, Albertville, France hosted the winter games, and Olympic-sized appetites brought bulldozers to many a pristine slope. The devastation prompted the IOC to sign a commitment requiring host countries to tread lightly on their paths to the Olympics.
- •Schinias Beach, Greece (2004)In 490, B.C., a Greek phalanx defeated a fleet of Persian invaders on Schinias Beach, in the Bay of Marathon. A fleet footed messenger ran the 26.2 miles to Athens to report the victory. Two and a half millennia later, the Greek government tried to build a rowing center there for the 2004 summer games, destroying ruins and wildlife habitat. One historian said of the travesty, “It’s like building a rowing center in Gettysburg.”
- •Beijing (2008)The summer 2008 opening ceremony in Beijing wowed the world. But it wasn’t just fireworks that had people gasping freely. The city cut down on its notorious pollution for the games' duration—which later studies showed provided a boost to residents’ health. Once the games were over however, the city went right back to being one of the worst places on Earth for anything with lungs.
- •London (2012)London beat out eight competitors for the 2012 summer games, in part because it promised to build its Olympic park with drastically reduced carbon emissions. Once the city won the bid, however, it burned fossil fuels like the year was 1952.
- •Sochi (2014)For six years leading up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Russian construction crews dumped heaps of garbage on the town of Akhshtyr. Meanwhile, dust from construction ruined the village’s crops, and road construction destroyed its wells. These days, Akhshtyr gets its water delivered by truck.
- •Rio de Janeiro (2016)The city doesn’t so much treat its sewage as let it run unabated into Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, where in summer 2016 sailors, windsurfers, and rowers will compete. Training in the water has already made several competitors ill.
- •Mount Gariwang, South Korea (2018)For 500 years, Mount Gariwang knew neither saw nor axe. Long considered sacred—the mountain was the royal family’s private ginseng garden in the 15th century—the South Korean government declared it a protected area in 2009. But Gariwang is one of the only mountains in the country that fits the International Olympic Committee’s criteria for alpine skiing. So in 2013, the government removed the mountain’s protection and blazed 56 acres of trails to prepare for the 2018 PyeongChang winter games.
- •Beijing (2022)Beijing is currently bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The only problem is the mountains near the city don’t get a lot of precipitation (especially recently). The solution? Take water from the nearby Guanting Reservoir and make artificial snow...which will probably ruin farming in many nearby villages that rely on the reservoir for irrigation.