National

Tokyo Gov. Koike protests but IOC stands firm on 2020 Olympic marathon's move to Sapporo

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike demanded an explanation from the International Olympic Committee during a meeting on Friday with Coordination Committee Chairman John Coates as to why the host city for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games wasn’t consulted in a decision to move the marathon and race-walking events to Sapporo.

The preliminary talks were held ahead of a three-day meeting to begin Oct. 31 in Tokyo to discuss measures to mitigate summer heat in the capital during the 2020 Games. The IOC’s proposal to move the marathon and walking events is expected to be finalized at the meeting.

“Up until now, the local municipalities and authorities and citizens were very much looking forward to the events and working very hard to prepare for them,” Koike said. “Because of this, when the plan to change was announced, myself, as well as the citizens, could not help but feel it was quite sudden.”

“They were quite disappointed as well,” she added. “Unfortunately, we have not had a compelling explanation given as yet.”

Coates was told by IOC President Thomas Bach to meet with and explain to the governor that the decision to move the events to Sapporo was made after high temperatures and humidity significantly impaired marathon runners and other athletes at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, held from late September to early October.

Coates told reporters there is no chance that the events will be held in Tokyo.

“It’s not a matter of whether the city insists. The decision has been taken,” Coates told reporters following the meeting. “The IOC executive board has a responsibility under the Olympic Charter to always put the athletes first.”

To accommodate those affected by the decision, Coates said ticket holders and the parents of athletes will be reimbursed and the IOC is open to discussing the possibility of organizing athletic programs for underprivileged youth in Tokyo. He also proposed holding a parade in the lead-up to the closing ceremony on Aug. 9 for medal winners in the marathon and race-walking events, as well as other athletes competing outside of Tokyo, such as those taking part in sailing competitions in Enoshima and cyclists in Izu.

Koike said in a statement after the plan was “abruptly” announced nearly two weeks ago that the move could lead to problems going forward. She pointed out that decisions regarding the starting times and courses for the endurance events had been made after deliberations between Tokyo and the IOC, along with other related groups and organizations.

On Thursday, Kyodo News cited city officials who said the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was considering making a counterproposal at the meeting to keep both events in Tokyo, but hold them as early as 3:00 a.m., before the daytime heat kicks in.

But during the meeting, Coates insisted that holding events before sunrise would be impossible due to visibility concerns for athletes and spectators, but also for medical personnel and the media, which use helicopters to cover such events.

Recent discussions on the 2020 Games, with its opening ceremony scheduled for July next year, have largely focused on concerns about the impact Japan’s typically hot and humid summer might have on athletes and spectators alike.

The men’s and women’s marathons were originally scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Organizers later rescheduled them twice — once to 7:00 a.m. then again to 6:00 a.m. — due to concerns about high temperatures.

Other countermeasures against summer heat that are being considered include installing fans and mist machines within and near stadiums, and strategically planting trees to create shade.

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