Miyagi governor bullish on hosting Olympic events

by

Staff Writer

The governor of Miyagi is confident that his prefecture is capable of hosting rowing and canoe sprint events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics despite a “negative” meeting with the organizing committee on Wednesday.

“The organizing committee gave me a list of nine reasons why they think it’s difficult to use Naganuma,” said Gov. Yoshihiro Murai, who talked to Tokyo 2020 organizers for an hour before traveling across the city to meet Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. “I listened, but I think that if we all make the effort we can overcome it.”

A review of venues and costs for the 2020 Games ordered by Koike late last month recommended that the proposed Umi no Mori (Sea Forest) rowing and canoe sprint venue in Tokyo be scrapped and replaced by the existing Naganuma course in Tome, hundreds of kilometers from the capital.

Tokyo 2020 organizers expressed concern at the recommendations, which also proposed renovating existing venues for swimming and volleyball. International Rowing Federation head Jean-Christophe Rolland last week met with Koike and said he was “disappointed” with the proposed venue change.

Tokyo 2020 chiefs, who undertook a comprehensive review of each Olympic venue in 2014, on Wednesday presented Murai with a list of nine reasons why they feel the Naganuma venue is unsuitable, including concerns over infrastructure, cost and inconvenience for competing athletes.

But Murai struck a bullish tone as he emerged from the meeting before leaving to pitch his case to Koike, who is expected to decide whether to accept or reject the recommendations at the end of this month.

“The feeling I got today from the organizing committee was a negative one, that it would be impossible,” said Murai. “But we managed to recover from the Great East Japan Earthquake — of course with some help from the government — in just 5½ years. So you can’t tell me that we’re not capable of hosting one Olympic event four years from now.

“If the organizing committee supports us 100 percent, and we also have the support of the Tokyo and national governments, we can do it. Rather than everyone thinking about reasons why we can’t do it, I’d like them to put their energy into finding a way that we can.”

The review panel made its recommendations after warning that the total cost of the 2020 Games could rise to four times the original estimate of ¥734 billion.

“I understood his point. I’d like to make a thorough decision with the venue as one of the options,” Koike told reporters after meeting with Murai.

Tokyo 2020 executive board member Toshiaki Endo, who served as the government’s Olympic minister until August this year, told Murai earlier in the day that the organizing committee’s stance has not changed.

“I would like to stress once again that the decision was made unanimously and based on thorough investigations,” said Endo. “We have conducted careful examinations of all candidate rowing sites, including Naganuma.

“As a result, all parties including the International Olympic Committee, the international federations, the national federations, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government came to the conclusion that Umi no Mori was the most promising and best suited for the hosting of rowing competitions.”

World rowing body FISA on Tuesday issued a statement on its website backing the organizers’ position.

“The Sea Forest Water Sports Centre will also provide a strong legacy for the citizens of Tokyo,” the statement said. “The Naganuma option was both more expensive and the legacy impact was questionable due to its remote location.”

Koike is set to meet IOC President Thomas Bach when he visits Tokyo next week. Changes to 2020 venues must be approved by each sport’s federation and by the International Olympic Committee.

Information from Kyodo added