Friday 8 July 2022 9:20am

Major international sports events can significantly reduce their carbon footprint if organisers are willing to make some changes, a tourism expert says.

James Higham image
Professor James Higham.

Professor James Higham from the University of Otago's Department of Tourism contributed to a study which has found CO2 emissions at the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo were significantly less than originally expected as a result of fewer event-related personnel attending due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Because of this, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games offered a unique case study to investigate the impact of reduced international travel on event CO2 emissions.

“Our results indicate that acting to reduce the number of event-related personnel attending the Olympics is an important strategy that aims to mitigate the carbon footprint of mega sports events,” Professor Higham says.

Olympics-related personnel refers to the International Olympic Committee, officials including referees and judges, media, and marketing partners.

The study, led by Dr Eiji Ito, from Chukyo University, did not include the greatly reduced number of spectators that would normally have visited Japan for the Olympic Games.

It indicated an estimation of 30,212 inbound personnel at the Olympics, significantly less than the 141,000 originally expected.

This reduced international air travel emissions by 129,686 tCO2.

While Professor Higham is not suggesting future events should be held in empty stadiums, even small changes can make an impact.

“We need to challenge ourselves to decarbonise these types of sports events.”

Some stadiums are already acting in innovative ways in terms of sustainable construction, carbon offsetting commitments, and the food and beverages they serve, he says.

Future events should model their emissions and creatively explore ways in which event design and delivery can contribute to event emissions reductions.

“Small first steps will inevitably lead to more significant changes over time.”

This could include sourcing local/regional officials, offering opportunities for live virtual reality streaming and online press conferences, and ensuring that all unavoidable event-related emissions are costed. Sponsors could be challenged to declare their event-related emissions to harness their commitment to a low carbon event.

To determine the emissions reduction of the recent Olympics, researchers first identified the number people visiting Japan with temporary visitor visas in July last year.

They then subtracted the number of Olympic athletes, followed by the visitors to Japan in June to account for non-Olympics related visa-holders.

“We estimated the return flight distance (miles) and CO2 emissions (kg) per passenger between the main and hub airports of each country and region and Narita International Airport using a flight carbon calculator.”

The results were calculated by multiplying the number of inbound (international) Olympics-related personnel (30,212) by the air travel carbon emissions per passenger for each country and region.

“It shows that there is enormous potential to reduce the carbon footprint of the Olympic Games in terms of transportation and people travelling internationally to be in attendance.”

Publication details

Carbon emission reduction and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Annals of Tourism Research Empirical Insights

For more information, contact:

Professor James Higham
Department of Tourism
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 8500

Jessica Wilson
Advisor Media Engagement
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 5016

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