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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter January 22, 2021

Existential threats to the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games? a review of emerging environmental health risks

  • Michael Annear EMAIL logo , Tetsuhiro Kidokoro and Yasuo Shimizu


This review highlights two intersecting environmental phenomena that have significantly impacted the Tokyo Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games: infectious disease outbreaks and anthropogenic climate change. Following systematic searches of five databases and the gray literature, 15 studies were identified that addressed infectious disease and climate-related health risks associated with the Summer Games and similar sports mega-events. Over two decades, infectious disease surveillance at the Summer Games has identified low-level threats from vaccine-preventable illnesses and respiratory conditions. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and expansion of vector-borne diseases represent emerging and existential challenges for cities that host mass gathering sports competitions due to the absence of effective vaccines. Ongoing threats from heat injury among athletes and spectators have also been identified at international sports events from Asia to North America due to a confluence of rising Summer temperatures, urban heat island effects and venue crowding. Projections for the Tokyo Games and beyond suggest that heat injury risks are reaching a dangerous tipping point, which will necessitate relocation or mitigation with long-format and endurance events. Without systematic change to its format or staging location, the Summer Games have the potential to drive deleterious health outcomes for athletes, spectators and host communities.

Corresponding author: Michael Annear, Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University, 2-7-5 Higashi-Fushimi, Nishitokyo city, Tokyo202-0021Japan, Phone: +81 3 3203 4141, E-mail:

  1. Research funding: Authors state no funding involved.

  2. Author contributions: All authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this manuscript and approved its submission.

  3. Competing interests: Authors state no conflict of interest.

  4. Informed consent: Informed consent is not applicable.

  5. Ethical approval: The conducted research is not related to either human or animal use.


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Supplementary Material

The online version of this article offers supplementary material (

Received: 2020-10-13
Accepted: 2020-12-22
Published Online: 2021-01-22
Published in Print: 2021-06-25

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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