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Climate change may cause venue shifts, says athletics chief

Climate change may cause venue shifts, says athletics chief
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe wearing a protective face mask after inspecting the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, October 8, 2020. (Reuters)

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World Athletics president Lord Coe has said championships could be moved to protect athletes from extreme heat.

He voiced concerns over safety and warned he envisaged the governing body changing event locations as a result of global warming.

Temperatures hit 32C at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon this week, and wildfires have struck Europe.

“I can see us being in a position where we start looking at some of our endurance events,” said Lord Coe.

“Maybe when we come to some of our road events, race walks and marathons we might need to look at how we separate them from championships and put them into a more benign environment.

“We’re not the only sport that has to deal with that. If our World Championships had been in London, you’d have been facing exactly the same challenges.”

A heat dome – when the atmosphere traps heat over an area – caused dozens of deaths in Oregon and the part-suspension of the US Olympic trials last June as organisers moved to protect athletes and fans.

Conditions have been less extreme this year but athletes have still struggled in intense heat.

The UK saw a record temperature of 40.3C on Wednesday, and heatwaves across Europe have led to a surge in emergencies including fires.

Lord Coe criticised the targets set by many countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, meaning they will take as much of the climate-changing gases out of the atmosphere as they put in.

“Climate change is with us – it’s not going to disappear,” he said, adding that events could move to earlier in the year or the autumn and coincide with major city marathons.

“Even some of the more risible targets that have been set by governments are not going to make any difference.

“We have to recognise that we may have to do things in our own way to protect the athletes from heat conditions.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) moved the Tokyo Games marathon and walking events from the Japanese capital to the northern city of Sapporo last year because of fears over potentially dangerous temperatures, with many events rescheduled to early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid high temperatures.

Competitors spoke of the brutal conditions in the hottest ever Games, and key figures from major sporting organisations, including the IOC, attended the COP26 summit to discuss the global response to climate change in November.

A report backed by leading athletes before the Olympics warned that athletes and sports would be “impaired” as part of the impact of climate change.(BBC)