Paris Olympics: heatwave in France could put athletes at serious risk

Games must be adapted to keep athletes, officials and spectators safe, recommends an alarming new UK university report

Olympic rings on Eiffel tower in paris under a clear blue sky
In the century since the 1924 Paris Olympics the minimum July temperature has increased by 3.3C on average

France’s hot summer could put athletes and spectators at great risk during the 2024 Paris Olympics, an alarming report from a UK university has warned.

It recommends that sporting authorities take urgent measures to keep people safe. Several athletes have told how they fear for their health during the competition - and even that the heat could prove fatal for them.

The 2024 Rings of Fire report, published by physiologists Professor Mike Tipton and Dr Jo Corbett from the University of Portsmouth on June 18, is concerned by the effects that rising global temperatures have on athletes.

It comes as the French weather service, Météo France, says this summer is expected to be hotter and drier than average, particularly along the Mediterranean coast where some of the events will be held.

The report interviewed athletes, including world champions, in several major disciplines to highlight the challenges, dangers and concerns raised by higher temperatures.

In particular, it highlights the threat that a heatwave could pose, citing the devastating 2003 heatwave, when temperatures in France hit 40C for eight consecutive days, claiming 14,000 lives - many of whom were elderly people.

In broader terms, the report sounds the alarm over the challenges that global warming poses to the summer Games.

“A warming planet will present an additional challenge to athletes, which can adversely impact on their performance and diminish the sporting spectacle of the Olympic Games,” wrote President of World Athletics Lord Sebastian Coe in the report’s introduction.

“Hotter conditions also increase the potential for heat illness amongst all individuals exposed to high thermal stress, including officials and spectators, as well as athletes.”

Is France that hot?

However, some of the reports’ more alarming claims will likely raise eyebrows in France.

The month of May and the first half of June were cold and wet, with much of the country buffeted by storms and hail.

Read more: VIDEOS: Rain, hail and even a tornado batter France, storm alerts raised

Even as summer temperatures start to arrive, late snow remains in some areas.

Nonetheless, annual temperatures are rising and temperatures each year since 1990 have been above historic averages.

In the century since the 1924 Paris Olympics, July temperatures in Paris are higher by:

  • Minimums 3.3C

  • Averages 3.1C

  • Highs 2.8C

The danger to athletes

The hottest Olympic Games on record was in Tokyo in 2020, when 34C temperatures and 70% humidity made for dangerous conditions.

Read more: France heatwave tips: How to sleep, keep cool and stay healthy 

Tennis players were particularly at risk. 

That year, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev needed two medical timeouts in his men’s singles quarter-final. After the match he said he had felt unable to breathe and had been “ready to just fall down on the court”.

Following the Tokyo Games, Novak Djokovic said: “I’ve never faced this kind of conditions in my entire life on a consecutive daily basis.”

Another tennis player, New Zealand’s Marcus Daniell, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics told the report of having to “play in conditions where an egg can literally be fried on the court.”

Even safe higher temperatures have an impact on performance, wrote Lord Coe.

“For athletes, from smaller performance-impacting issues like sleep disruption and last-minute changes to event timings, to exacerbated health impacts and heat related stress and injury, the consequences can be varied and wide-ranging.

With global temperatures continuing to rise, climate change should increasingly be viewed as an existential threat to sport.”

The report goes on to recommend five points for sporting authorities to take into account, namely to:

  • Adapt schedules to avoid heat extremes, 

  • Make clear plans for rehydration and cooling to keep athletes and spectators safe 

  • Empower athletes to speak out on climate change, 

  • Boost collaboration between sporting bodies and athletes on climate awareness, 

  • Reassess fossil fuel sponsorships in sport

The organisers of the Paris Olympics have not commented on the report.