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AC-free ambition for Paris Olympic village melts away

Lack of air-conditioning has long worried some national Olympic teams, with athletes concerned about missing sleep, particularly given the summer heat waves suffered by Paris in recent years

Published: Jul 3, 2024 05:33:32 PM IST
Updated: Jul 3, 2024 05:39:41 PM IST

As well as the As well as the "eco-friendly" Olympic village that includes low-carbon building materials, Paris Olympics organisers are mostly relying on temporary stadiums or renovated old ones, instead of building new venues. Image: Ludovic Marin / AFP©

Although designed to be eco-friendly and free of air-conditioning, the Paris Olympic village will be fitted with 2,500 temporary cooling units when athletes arrive later this month, organisers said Tuesday.

The complex in a northern suburb of Paris was built as a showcase of environmentally friendly technology and has a geothermal cooling system that uses cool water pumped from deep beneath the ground.

But the lack of air-conditioning has long worried some national Olympic teams, with athletes concerned about missing sleep, particularly given the summer heat waves suffered by Paris in recent years.

Organisers devised a compromise that enabled teams to order portable air-conditioning units at their own expense, which can be installed for the duration of the July 26-August 11 Olympics.

"The aim was to provide a very specific solution for athletes who are facing the match or competition of their lives.. and who might have requirements for their comfort and recovery which are higher than in a normal summer," the deputy director of the village, Augustin Tran Van Chau, said Tuesday.

"Around 2,500 ACs have been ordered," he told journalists during a media visit to the complex in a suburb north of Paris.

The accommodation complex comprises 7,000 rooms in total, with the geothermal cooling system guaranteeing temperatures inside at least 6 degrees Celsius (11 Fahrenheit) below those outside.

The roughly 40 low-rise towers will host around 10,000 Olympians, and then 5,000 Paralympians during the Paralympic Games from August 28-September 8.

'Not a picnic'

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who heads the Olympics infrastructure group Solideo, had ruled out using portable air-conditioners in the village last year, while other officials have stressed that they were not necessary.

"I have a lot of respect for the comfort of athletes, but I think a lot more about the survival of humanity," she told French radio station France Info in February 2023.

Several national Olympic teams have put pressure on French organisers to make provision for air-conditioning in the rooms.

"We raised a lot of issues early on and they (organisers) have met those needs, like air conditioning for athletes in the village," Rocky Harris, chief of athlete services for the United States Olympic Committee, told AFP in February.

"Those things are important because of sleep and health and wellness for the athletes."

Australian Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll told Australia media last year that "we appreciate the concept of not having air conditioning due to the carbon footprint" but he added that "this is a high-performance Games. We’re not going for a picnic."

Also read: We're ready to give our best at the Paris Olympics: Ashwini Ponnappa & Tanisha Crasto

Teams from rich countries such as Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada have said they will pay for AC for their athletes, the Washington Post reported last month, potentially giving them an advantage over poorer countries that will go without.

During a visit to the athletes' restaurant at the heart of the village last week, chief organiser Tony Estanguet defended not installing air-conditioning in all of the eating areas.

"I think we've found a good compromise between offering the right temperature but also reducing our carbon emissions," Estanguet said. "It's one of the main challenges of the Paris 2024 edition."

Lower emissions

The Paris Games is aiming to reduce its total carbon emissions to half the level of previous editions in London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

As well as the "eco-friendly" village that includes low-carbon building materials, organisers are mostly relying on temporary stadiums or renovated old ones, instead of building new venues.

Only two new permanent venues will be used during the Games.

Meat products have also been reduced on menus at the village and at sports venues, with the temporary stadium hosting the skateboarding and BMXing at Place de la Concorde set to be 100-percent vegetarian.

A report last month backed by climate scientists and athletes warned about the dangers posed by extreme high temperatures at the Paris Olympics.

The study, entitled "Rings of Fire", added to a growing number of calls from sports people to adjust sports schedules and the timing of events to take into account the physical strain of competing in higher temperatures caused by global warming.

"Sleep disruption due to heat has been cited in the build-up to the 2024 Games as a major concern by athletes, especially given the lack of air conditioning in the Olympic Village," the report said.