National

International Olympic Committee meeting kicks off amid tensions with Tokyo over unexpectedly relocated events

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

Amid growing tension between the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the International Olympic Committee over a plan to move marathon and race-walking events to Sapporo, a three-day meeting began in Tokyo on Wednesday to review test event results and heat countermeasures being prepared in the lead up to the 2020 Games.

During her opening statement, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who has said she was blindsided by the IOC’s unilateral decision to move marathon and race-walking events away from the capital, urged the IOC to provide an explanation as to why that choice was made without consulting the host city, and reiterated her request that the events be held in Tokyo.

“With the games less than nine months away, preparations are beginning to enter their final stages. Now, we will have to start from scratch,” Koike said. “I need not say that athletes should come first, but at this meeting, a proper explanation needs to be made, to Tokyo and its residents, as to why this decision was made.”

Coates has said the decision was made to protect athletes from Tokyo’s infamous summer heat after several runners struggled to perform — many failing to finish the race — during a Sept. 15 marathon in Doha, Qatar.

“It was a decision that was taken as a consequence of what we saw in Doha. If there’s any further explanation that’s required, I stand here ready,” Coates said during his opening remarks. “We do not want to leave without an understanding from the people of Tokyo as to why the IOC executive board took the action it did.”

The meeting, which is being hosted by the IOC’s Coordination Commission, kicked off more than two weeks after it was announced that five events — the men’s and women’s 20 kilometer race walk, the men’s and women’s marathons and the men’s 50 km race walk — that had been scheduled to take place in Tokyo between late July and early August would instead be held in Sapporo, where the daytime temperature is said to be lower by 5 to 6 degrees Celsius.

Members of the governor’s Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) — the biggest faction in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly — said during a news conference on Tuesday that the IOC should have referred instead to the Marathon Grand Championship, which was held in Tokyo in mid-September.

In early October, IOC President Thomas Bach praised heat countermeasures being made in preparation for the 2020 Games. Less than two weeks later, the IOC announced that marathon and race-walking events would be moved to Sapporo.

According to assembly members who spoke during the news conference, the governor was informed of the IOC’s decision by phone hours before the press release was made public. The mayor of Sapporo, which is now set to host the events, told reporters that he found out about the decision from the news.

Relocating the events to Sapporo would cost more than ¥34 billion ($310 million), according to a calculation by Tomin First no Kai.

“I have no intention of using Tokyo taxpayer’s money to pay for this,” Koike told reporters after making her opening remarks.

Major factions in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly submitted a joint statement to the IOC on Tuesday calling for further discussion to be held during the Coordination Commission’s meeting.