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IOC seeks to explain Olympic marathon move as Tokyo still hopes to retain race

A logo is displayed on a fence in Tokyo (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The Tokyo 2020 organising committee is still hopeful that the marathon and race walking events at next year’s Olympic Games can take place in the Japanese capital, despite the International Olympic Committee maintaining that its decision to move the events to Sapporo is final.

The races are being relocated to the northern city to avoid the intense heat of Tokyo. Temperatures in Sapporo are up to six degrees cooler during the day in the Japanese summer.

John Coates, the chairman of the IOC’s coordination commission, has traveled to the city for a three-day meeting with Yuriko Koike, governor of Tokyo, during which he will seek to explain the reasoning behind the move.

“We owe it to the people of Tokyo to make sure they are fully briefed,” Coates said, before again describing the decision as final after witnessing multiple athletes require medical attention during the recent World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, despite the races being held at midnight.

“This was a decision that was taken quickly. It was a decision that was taken as consequences of what we saw in Doha,” he said.

The abruptness of the decision, which seems to have been made without consultation with the city or the organising committee, is what has caused the greatest consternation to Koike.

“We consider it an unprecedented turn of events for the IOC to make such an abrupt proposal with no consultation or discussion whatsoever with the host city Tokyo beforehand,” she told media on Wednesday, reiterating that she will fight to keep the events in the Olympic host city. 

Coates has proposed forming a task force consisting of the four main stakeholders – the IOC, the Tokyo government, the national government and the 2020 local organising committee – to work out the details of the move to Sapporo.

The marathon is among the most high-profile events at the Olympics, attracting significant numbers of broadcast viewers and, from the perspective of the host city, providing a unique opportunity to show off key landmarks and tourist areas.

Meanwhile, the International Association of Athletics Federations has begun to explore its options for the staging of the marathons and race walking events.

The body has put forward a proposal, alongside the Japan Association of Athletics Federations, to hold the men’s and women’s marathons on the same day, 9 August, in order to avoid conflict with the athletics events taking place in Tokyo’s National Stadium between 31 July and 8 August.

Another proposal would see the events held at some point between 27 and 30 July, before the other athletics events begin.