Hangzhou shuns fireworks, echoing NOC Secretary General’s 2010 message

Colombo, 24 September 2023 – Ever since the 1936 Winter Olympics, when fireworks were first said to be set off at an opening or closing ceremony, they have been an integral feature of the Olympics as well as other global events. It’s hard to imagine a modern global event without large-scale pyrotechnics exploding over the night sky over a packed stadium.

However, fireworks are not so pleasing to the environment as they are to the watching crowds, carrying significant environmental impact and adding contaminants to the air with links to respiratory and cardiovascular disease. In these more environmentally conscious times, the use of fireworks has come under scrutiny, and this was the exact message echoed by Mr. Maxwell De Silva, the Secretary General of the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka, all the way back in October 2010 at the ANOC General Assembly in Acapulco, Mexico. In a message ahead of its time, Mr. De Silva stressed the damaging impact of fireworks, stating the need for sporting events to set an example for the rest of the world on sustainability. He was quoted as saying, “Environment is environment. “The clashing of your ideals is on the one hand saying, ‘OK, clean games,’ on the other hand you are polluting — it’s a contradiction” and further stated to restrict and or totally avoid Fireworks at the games.

The message was a divisive one at the time, and while the IOC stated that the issue would be raised with the environmental commission and host organisers, the subsequent Olympics as well as other global events have still had these traditional firework displays.

Thirteen years later, the Hangzhou Asian Games might be changing all of that and paving the way for a firework-free future. In front of a capacity crowd of 80,000 at the Olympic Sports Center Stadium, the sky was illuminated by vibrant displays of digital fireworks and 3-D animations as well as a digital torchbearer. In a global event that has committed to “going green”, Hangzhou perhaps gave us a glimpse into the future as future global events as organisers try to marry the concepts of having a truly global game while promoting sustainability along the way.

Ever since his 2010 message, Mr. Maxwell De Silva has continued to campaign for the removal or limitation of fireworks at the opening and closing ceremonies of major sporting events. Seeing his vision coming to fruition 13 years later, he expressed his delight to see absolutely no fireworks at the opening ceremony. He was quoted as saying, “I am happy to see China set an example to the rest of the world by not having fireworks for the opening and closing ceremonies. I think this is a great lesson and also a leap forward for Paris to follow in 2024. I am glad that I brought attention to this issue back in 2010.”

Back in Sri Lanka, the NOC Sri Lanka has also stayed true to the message of sustainability preached by the Secretary-General. In September 2023, the NOC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Forest Conversation, securing 50 hectares of land from the Weerakkodichole Forest in Puttalam District. Additionally, in the implementation of the “Olympic Forest” program running until 2030, the NOC Sri Lanka gives their full commitment to the UN Climate Change Proposal while also pledging to reduce their carbon footprint by 50% by 2030 and to be carbon-neutral by 2040.