2020 Olympic Marathon Relocation Demonstrates How Climate Change Is Affecting Sports

The International Olympic Committee's announcement it would relocate marathon and race walking events for the 2020 Olympics over heat concerns was the latest indicator of the impacts of climate change.

The IOC noted that temperatures in Sapporo, the new location for the races, are expected to be around 75 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit in summer 2020, far below temperatures over 86 degrees, which are projected for Tokyo. The organizers had already shifted the start time of the marathons slightly earlier due to concerns about high temperatures.

Climate change, and associated temperature increases, is regularly highlighted as an existential threat that will force a series of alterations in the way people around the world live, cause mass displacement and cost trillions of dollars in economic damages. It will also affect cultural staples like sporting events, as climate shifts can make competition unsafe.

"Within a few decades, under moderate or high emissions scenarios, the number of days with heat index values of 100 degrees or more could double, and the duration of extreme heat waves could also double," Carl Parker, a Hurricane Specialist and Storm Specialist for The Weather Channel, told Newsweek. "Any outdoor activities, and particularly sports that can raise the body's core temperature, will have to be curtailed. Warmer regions could be similar to areas where extreme cold can be found today; there will be periods where you just can't be outside."

The IOC has acknowledged that climate change will affect future competitions and has said that it will consider climate change when selecting the host cities for the Winter and Summer Olympics.

"We are starting to live in the consequences of climate change. Summers are getting hotter, winters are getting shorter. Snow is being found at higher locations," Michelle Lemaitre, head of sustainability for the IOC, said in August.

The decision to relocate the events comes just weeks after the marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, where nearly half of the women competing in the race dropped out of the marathon amid scorching heat and humidity. One was hospitalized.

Former marathon world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie told the Associated Press that "it was a mistake to conduct the championship in such hot weather in Doha, especially the marathon race. As someone who has been in the sport for many years, I've found it unacceptable."

Heat waves have recently impacted other sporting events, such as the New York City triathlon, which was cancelled this year. A fan at the 2018 U.S. Open in New York collapsed amid blistering heat.

Winter sports will also be affected by climate change; in 2015, the Iditarod changed course for just the second time in history because of warm weather. Research published by the University of Waterloo and the Management Center Inssbruck in 2014 found that only half of the cities that previously hosted the Winter Olympics could reliably host the games by the middle of the 21st century.

Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia reacts after crossing the finish line during the Men's Marathon during day nine of 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships on October 5 in Doha, Qatar. Maja Hitij/Getty Images