Gemma Berman's picture

Olympics 2012 - The Mecca of the Sporting World?

As I write this to you, I am surrounded by fellow [[wysiwyg_imageupload:136:]]
commuters – stressed, squashed and sweaty as we are herded through the 150 year old London Underground system. London transport struggles with an ever increasing commuter population, and, with the London 2012 Olympic Games now underway, the question on everyone’s lips for the months leading up to the Games was ‘how will we cope?

The most prestigious sporting event known to man-kind is gracing my home town and boy don’t we know it…everything is Olympic-themed. The games consume daily news updates and the advertising market is saturated with athlete-endorsed products, plans and provisions. Colleagues gather at the start of each day to discuss the latest Olympics buzz and even pause from the work day to catch a glimpse of the highest contested event, particularly when a Brit is in the running for a medal.

But amongst all of the excitement and festivities, little is being mentioned about the health issues a mass gathering may bestow on our little Island.

With the Olympics Games in mind, The Lancet Infectious Diseases compiled a series of papers reviewing the health implications of mass gatherings. Not surprisingly, after decades of hosting the world’s largest annual mass gathering (more than 2.5 million pilgrims from almost every country in the world) the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is often used as the example.  It provides plenty of key learnings on how to manage the prevention of global disease outbreaks at such huge scale mass gatherings. It’s not just the spread of infectious diseases that need to be considered…

  • Crush injuries

A stampede caused the death of 1,426 during the Hajj in 1990 where pilgrims spontaneously rushed to leave Mecca via one exit

  • Stress-induced cardiovascular events

A study from England showed that admissions from acute MI were increased by 25% on the day of and two days after England lost to Argentina in the 1998 World Cup

  • Bioterrorism

In Japan, 12 people were killed in 1995 when the doomsday Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin gas on the Tokyo subway

  • Blood shortage

The NHS has warned that regular donors miss appointments more regularly when large public events take place as normal routines are suspended and people travel more frequently

  • Heatstroke

During the 1985 Hajj, 2000 cases of heat stroke were reported that resulted in more than 1000 deaths in just a few days. Approximately 300,000 people are expected to be in the Olympic Park at the height of the games.

It does feel ironic that the arrival of such a ‘healthy community’ as that of the Olympic athletes can bring with it such an array of potentially life-damaging implications and illnesses. I can tell you one thing though, you won’t find me anywhere else – come on the red, white and blue!