The International Olympic Committee has said that its decision to move the marathon and race walking events at next year’s Olympic Games to the northern Japanese city of Sapporo is final, as it looks to protect the heath of the athletes involved.
The extreme heat in Tokyo’s summer has long been a concern with regards to athlete welfare at the Olympics, and the IOC says it has made its final call based on the number of athletes who required medical treatment for heat-related issues during the recent World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Organisers back in Tokyo, the host city of the 2020 Games, have expressed their opposition to the move. Governor Yuriko Koike described the decision as “a bolt from the blue”, while the Kyodo news agency has reported that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is considering a proposal to start events as early as 3am to avoid the heat.
The IOC believes this is impractical for a number of reasons, primarily the lack of public transportation to the events and the difficulties posed for the broadcast product by filming in the dark.
Ahead of a meeting with Koike, the chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission, John Coates, told reported that the IOC was “shocked by what we saw in Doha in very similar conditions in terms of temperature and humidity to what’s expected here in Tokyo,” adding that the body “didn’t want Tokyo to be remembered for similar images as you will have seen in Doha.”
The counter-proposal from the Tokyo government was unlikely to change the outcome, Coates said. ”It’s not a matter of if the Tokyo government insists. The decision has been taken.”
Yoshiro Mori, the president of Tokyo 2020 organising committee, is believed to have accepted that the city has little choice but to accept the decision, but other authorities, including that led by Koike, are inclined to make further efforts to keep the races in the Japanese capital.
57 deaths were attributed to the extreme temperatures in Tokyo over a nine-day period in July this year, compounding organisers’ worries about the threat to athletes and fans alike at next year’s Games. The Japanese Medical Association earlier this year expressed “grave concerns” about the conditions, with high levels of humidity as much of a risk as the rising temperatures. Tokyo has experienced extreme heatwaves in each of the last two summers.