Interview with Roberto Saini, Head of Environment of Turin 2006 Winter Games

by Chiara Aruffo

For the special section Sport and Sustainability, we had the pleasure of talking to Roberto Saini, Head of Environment of Turin 2006 Winter Games and currently lecturer at the Life Sciences Department of the University of Turin where he teaches “Environmental Planning and Management”.

  • Thank you for granting us this interview. You were the Head of Environment of Turin 2006 Winter Games, how many people worked with you on the project?
Roberto Saini, Head of Environment of Turin 2006 Winter Games

The Environment team consisted of 25 people, a small team if you think that more than 3000 people were involved in the organization of the Winter Games. In this regard, I want to mention my closest colleagues, Ugo Pretato and Paolo Revellino, who were fundamental for the success of the project.

  • The 2006 Turin Olympics have been universally recognized as a great success from an environmental point of view, thanks also to the cooperation with the European Union and the United Nations. However, the IOC is almost never mentioned in this regard, were they involved as well?

The IOC was considered as an internal stakeholder, which is why you will not find it in official reports. Any Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games is directly under the control of the IOC, therefore communication contacts and support have been constant. In particular, for the Environment sector, our liaison with the IOC was Olav Myrholt, an IOC environmental expert, a Norwegian who worked on the planning of the Lillehammer Games in 1994 and whose experience was very helpful. About the external relations, we had a direct link with the European Union also because of the programmes that were undertaken together and the geographical proximity of Brussels. With UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), based in Nairobi, contacts have clearly been more occasional, but nevertheless constant.

  • The HECTOR (HEritage Climate TORino) project aimed to offset the carbon emissions produced during the Games and to raise awareness on the topic. Can you tell us more about the results and the initiatives undertaken with the local community?

A big event like the Turin 2006 Winter Games necessarily produces greenhouse gas emissions that have an impact on the climate system. We worked under the Kyoto Protocol, ratified in 2005, and as a first step we calculated the emissions that would be generated by the Olympics and Paralympics. The total amounted to around 130,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, and we therefore established a programme to offset these emissions. I would like to point out that while it is not easy to quantify the exact results , many offsetting measures have certainly been taken. Reforestation, within the framework of European Union programmes, is among them and this is a project that is still going on today. On the energy subject, Piedmont Region – who immediately joined the HECTOR project – issued a call for proposals that enabled strategic interventions for 3 million euros.

  • When talking about Turin 2006 often everything is about the great success in terms of the environment. Are there things that – on reflection – could have gone better?

We definitely won some battles, but I cannot deny that there have been some negative outcomes. The biggest flaw in terms of sustainability was certainly the construction of Bobsleigh track in Cesana. The Environment Department of the Organizing Committee raised some doubts on the plan and indeed it was proposed to evaluate moving the competitions to Albertville, across the border in France, but we received a clear negative response from the government in charge at the time. The decision was therefore taken merely on a political basis. Unfortunately, history showed that the facility left no legacy whatsoever, not even in sporting terms. It is a cathedral in the desert that left an open wound on the territory both from an environmental and a landscape point of view. Another work that was initially assessed negatively was the ski jumps venue in Pragelato. Compared to the first project presented, the final implementation had a very low impact, with sustainable environmental integration, thanks to the Environmental Impact Assessment carried out as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment procedures implemented under the control of the Ministry of the Environment and especially the Piedmont Region. It should be remarked that the inclusion of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), mandatory as per the national law on the 2006 Winter Olympics, was the result of a proposal put forward by the Province of Turin in the person of Prof. Mercedes Bresso, at the time President of the Turin Province and later elected President of the Piedmont Region. It was her, in fact, who brought forward the request during the discussion of Law 285/2000 “Interventions for the Winter Olympic Games Turin 2006“, even before the approval of the EU directive which only took place in 2001. Returning to the Pragelato trampolines, the design changes made following the Environmental Impact Assessment are much more respectful of the morphology of the territory. In addition, the planned land movement of 170,000 m3 has been reduced to only 10,000 m3, and the material reused in the nearby ski slopes of Sestriere.

  • After the Turin 2006 Games, were there any contacts with the IOC and/or CONI to discuss the legacy left by the Games? Out of curiosity, were you contacted by the organizers of Milano-Cortina 2026 to exchange ideas on how to achieve the goal of environmental sustainability in major sporting events?

The Organizing Committees are temporary structures that are dismantled at the end of the Olympics. Contacts with the IOC, and consequently also with CONI, were in fact interrupted after the event. With regard to Milano-Cortina 2026, there were no formal contacts between people that worked on the environmental sector with the organizers, but a few collaborators from Turin 2006 contributed to the bidding process of the two cities.

The Bobsleigh track built in Cesana (Credits Corriere.it)

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