‘A Strong, Sustainable Legacy:’ The Environment and Japan’s Winter Olympics

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Abstract

In the Olympic movement, common usage of the terms ‘legacy’ and ‘sustainability’ tends to conflate the two, suggesting that the two concepts are symbiotic and unquestionably linked. However, many of the winter Olympics’ ‘legacies’ are decidedly unsustainable. Scholars and activists have highlighted the immense water demands needed for producing fake snow, the changes in biodiversity resulting from carving out ski/luge/skeleton courses and lifts on mountains, the impact of artificially prolonged snow cover on vegetation, and the long-lasting environmental impacts of major infrastructure projects such as new train lines, highways, airports, and arenas. The legacies (or outcomes) of Japan’s two winter Olympics shed light on critical environmental issues and highlight Japan’s significant role in the supplementation of environmental concern and rhetoric into the Olympic movement. The increasing focus on the environment by Olympic organizers in Japan did not emerge because citizens or planners inherently cared more about ecological issues than those in other nations, nor because of any cultural or religious connections to nature. Interrogating Japan’s role in making environmental sustainability part of the Olympic movement, and specifically the role that winter Olympics played in that process, clarifies the persistent gap between the rhetoric and realities of Olympic legacy and sustainability.

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Kietlinski, R. (2021). ‘A Strong, Sustainable Legacy:’ The Environment and Japan’s Winter Olympics. International Journal of the History of Sport, 38(13–14), 1476–1493. https://doi.org/10.1080/09523367.2021.1958784

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