Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike reluctantly agreed Friday to support the International Olympic Committee’s unilateral decision to move the 2020 marathon and race walking events to Sapporo over heat concerns.
“I considered putting up more of a fight but the chances of winning were slim,” the governor said, adding that it is the athletes who would have to bear the burden of new courses and start times being arranged from scratch after the events are transferred to Hokkaido.
Koike’s remarks came after she discussed heat countermeasures with IOC Coordination Commission Chairman John Coates, Tokyo Organising Committee President Yoshiro Mori and Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto on the last day of a three-day meeting in Tokyo.
“We didn’t want Tokyo being remembered, both in the minds of your people and in the minds internationally, by some of the scenes we saw in Doha,” Coates said, referring to the heat-plagued marathon at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar in September. “All in all, we’re very pleased.”
Coates reported “strong progress” on the 2020 Games schedule after the coordination panel’s ninth meeting, which he said was dominated by the relocation of the endurance events to Sapporo. The sudden decision was prompted by the problems the extreme heat created for the runners in Doha.
The Coordination Commission will submit a report to the IOC executive board in December and conduct a project review in February, when it will also host its 10th and final meeting.
The meeting hosted by the coordination panel came more than two weeks after it announced on Oct. 16 that five events — the men’s and women’s marathons, 20-km race walks, and the men’s 50-km race walk — would instead be held in Sapporo, which is 5 to 6 degrees cooler on average between late July and early August.
“It’s regrettable that the local residents who were looking forward to watching the marathon and race walking events will no longer be able to do so,” Mori said. “However, upon further discussion, we understand why the decision was made and we intend to play our part in the organization of the 2020 Games just as we have been.”
In early October, less than two weeks before the decision came down to move the events to Sapporo, IOC President Thomas Bach praised the countermeasures that were being taken for the 2020 Games.
Koike was reportedly informed of the IOC’s decision by phone hours before the press release was issued.
Members of her political party Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) — the biggest faction in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly — said at a news conference earlier in the week that the IOC should have made its decision based on the results of the Marathon Grand Championship, a race held in Tokyo in mid-September, rather than the event in Doha.
Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto told reporters he found out about the decision on the news.
The marathons, which were slated for August, were originally scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. Organizers then moved the times up twice, to 7 a.m. and then 6 a.m., due to concerns about Tokyo’s sweltering summers.
Relocating the events will cost more than ¥34 billion ($310 million), according to an estimate by Tomin First no Kai that included both the cost of holding the events in Tokyo as well as what it would take to build temporary facilities and dedicated communication lines for media, among other things. Major factions in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly submitted a joint statement to the IOC on Tuesday calling for further discussions during the coordination commission’s meetings.
This relocation decision is the latest in a series of countermeasures being taken amid escalating discussions to protect athletes, spectators and volunteers during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. So far, countermeasures against the heat include the addition of fans and mist machines around and within stadiums and arenas, holding events in the mornings when it’s cooler, and strategically planting trees to create shade.