Are the Olympics Bad for Public Health?

Are the Olympics Unhealthy for Public Well being?

By Paul Rogers

Feb. 28, 2022 — Each Olympics, the world’s biggest athletes come collectively to display the higher limits of what the human physique can obtain and encourage all of us to get off the sofa (for about 5 minutes). However might the Olympic Video games be dangerous to your well being? Should you dwell in a bunch metropolis, perhaps. There’s proof that the steadily increasing scale, environmental footprint, and sheer expense of this gargantuan world sporting celebration can have alarming human prices.

Whereas the staging of Olympic Video games in Tokyo and Beijing in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic has spawned numerous headlines and far controversy, illness is much from the one menace to Olympic host populations.

Well being Care

The skyrocketing price of staging the Olympics can have severe ramifications for a bunch metropolis’s well being care system. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, price an estimated $50 billion — equal to greater than $130,000 for each considered one of its 382,000 residents. Diverting a lot funding can pressure well being sources, particularly in much less prosperous nations.

“When you’ve got techniques which might be pushed to the brink, while you introduce an exterior issue that’s uncommon, just like the Olympics, it normally means the system has problem coping,” says Diego Silva, PhD, senior lecturer in bioethics on the College of Sydney.

Rio de Janeiro hosted the Video games in 2016 throughout an financial disaster that stretched its public well being system to breaking level, with hospitals, clinics, and emergency rooms chopping providers and shutting models.

“Rio’s residents wait days for emergency surgical procedures and intensive care,” reported CNN in the course of the occasion. “But athletes have entry to wonderful care within the Olympic Village.”

Greece spent round 5% of its GDP on internet hosting the 2004 Athens Olympics. Quickly afterward it plunged right into a government-debt disaster that finally slashed funding for public hospitals by greater than 50%, whereas a lot of its pricey Olympic constructions already sat derelict. Equally, Olympic amenities in Rio and Sochi had been deserted inside months.

“What might we do with that cash?” asks Silva. “Can we institute wholesome consuming packages? Or might we really construct sidewalks?”


The environmental fallout from internet hosting the Olympics can have unwelcome results for the encircling populace. For instance, an estimated 500 million gallons of water was required for synthetic snowmaking at Beijing 2022, leading to provides reportedly being diverted from farmers and residents in an already arid area.

On the eve of the Sochi Video games, Human Rights Watch reported on the devastation attributable to Olympic development within the village of Akhshtyr, leaving it and not using a dependable water provide for greater than 5 years.

“The heavy truck site visitors has created giant quantities of mud, which residents complain has adversely affected their well being, property, livestock, and agriculture,” in accordance with the report.

Huge Olympic constructing tasks could be unhealthy for employees, too, with tight schedules spurring security shortcuts. At the least 70 employees died throughout Sochi development, and 13 earlier than the Rio Video games. The 2017 suicide of a employee on Tokyo’s behind-schedule Olympic stadium, after he’d clocked 190 extra time hours in a month, was formally declared a loss of life from overwork.


Olympic development has additionally displaced native populations, generally in staggering numbers. Some 720,000 folks had been relocated forward of Seoul’s 1988 Video games, and 1.5 million previous to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in accordance with a Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) report. Giant-scale compelled evictions included incidents of violence in opposition to residents and imprisonment for resisters.

“Roughly 20 folks had been believed to have died on account of such violence [in Seoul], most on account of alcoholism or suicide introduced on by the stress of the redevelopment course of,” in accordance with COHRE.

Holdout residents of Beijing’s Hujialou neighborhood reported assaults by demolition firm enforcers and endured a harsh winter with out warmth or electrical energy. As soon as relocated, they usually discovered themselves in distant suburbs, removed from hospitals and clinics.

Poor, minority, and marginalized populations have been disproportionately affected by such relocations. These have included favela dwellers in Rio and Roma communities earlier than the Barcelona 1992 and Athens 2004 occasions. Previous to the 1996 Atlanta Video games, 2,077 public housing models had been destroyed, in accordance with COHRE. Evictees’ subsequent battle to rebuild social and mutual help networks solely exacerbated their trauma.


The unfold of communicable illnesses attributable to convergences of giant numbers of individuals has been a constant Olympic concern, but such epidemics have seldom materialized. An outbreak of measles was traced again to 2 guests to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. However no new circumstances of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, concern of which had dominated buildup to the Rio Video games, had been reported throughout that occasion.

Each the delayed Tokyo 2020 Summer time Olympics and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics seem to have largely met the unprecedented problem of coronavirus. The Worldwide Olympic Committee claims that official genomic sequencing information confirmed no COVID-19 unfold between Tokyo Video games individuals and the native inhabitants. And China’s sweeping lockdowns appear to have been efficient in opposition to even the extremely contagious Omicron subvariant.

“Mass gathering medication has come a great distance, and the experiences of Tokyo and Beijing are instructing loads,” says Tara Kirk Promote, PhD, senior scholar on the Johns Hopkins Middle for Well being Safety and an Olympic swimming silver medalist. “A lot of these classes will probably be useful for future Video games.”

The Future

The selection of Olympic hosts is essential to mitigating the Video games’ human price. Such cities require economies sufficiently sturdy to climate any downturns occurring within the time between being introduced as hosts and staging the occasion. Rio, for instance, was chosen as 2016 host seven years earlier, then slipped right into a extreme recession within the interim.

On this regard, future Olympic hosts Paris (2024), Milan/Cortina (2026), and Los Angeles (2028) seem effectively positioned.

“Due to simply the monetary wealth these nations have, they are going to have the ability to, say, do illness surveillance in all probability simpler than different nations,” says Silva. “The richer cities have the capability to up their laboratories. They’re utilizing complete genome sequencing; they’re utilizing cutting-edge know-how.”

Methods to alleviate the unhealthy unwanted effects of internet hosting the Olympic Video games embody scaling again the occasion, “decentering” it by dispersing occasions throughout a number of cities, or establishing a single, everlasting Olympic house, which might negate the big financial, environmental, and social convulsions of a distinct host metropolis successfully beginning over for each version.

Such proposals are hardly new. Greece lobbied to have the Olympics completely stationed in Athens after internet hosting the primary fashionable Video games in 1896. However given the occasion’s rampant, unhealthy gigantism, perhaps it’s time to significantly rethink a radical reinvention which may put the enjoyable again within the Video games — for all.

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