March 1, 2006

Urban Winter Olympics could protect environment-UN

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Future Winter Olympic organizers should follow Turin's example and stage as many events as possible in cities to help protect the environment in mountain areas, a U.N. agency said on Wednesday.

The U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) also urged better recycling of sports venues, suggesting that the 2010 Games in Canada's Vancouver could re-use a bobsleigh run built for the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, about 670 km (415 miles) to the east.

"Contrary to some suggestions that the Winter Olympics were held too far from the mountains, Turin may in fact have shown the way toward even more environmentally friendly Winter Olympics," UNEP said.

UNEP chief Klaus Toepfer said Turin organizers had raised chances that venues would be used again by staging figure skating and ice hockey in the city and by having urban accommodation for athletes and the media.

"During the two weeks of competition this is likely to have increased commuting and transportation between the urban areas and the events staged in more rural, mountainous locations," he said in a statement.

"But over the longer term, the environmental impacts are likely to be positive," he said. organizers often build sports venues to showcase picturesque areas, hoping to draw tourists and to limit a sprawl of the Games.

UNEP praised Turin's efforts to curb the environmental impact of the Games but expressed concern about the 70 million euro ($83.61 million) bobsleigh run, which uses 48 tonnes of toxic ammonia as a coolant.

"Constructing, operating and maintaining what is effectively a huge fridge in the mountains raises many fundamental questions of sustainability," Toepfer said.

"Future organizing committees might consider re-using and upgrading existing tracks and stadia rather than building new ones if such facilities are convenient or nearby," the report said.