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Tokyo concedes defeat over marathon, call for golf switch

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

Tokyo government officials have conceded defeat in their dispute with the International Olympic Committee over the location for the marathon at next year’s Olympics after it was confirmed that the event will be moved to Sapporo.

Tokyo 2020, the organising committee, met with the IOC, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Japanese Government to discuss the matter and it was ultimately decided that the Olympic marathon and Olympic race walk events would be held on Japan’s cooler, northern island of Hokkaido.

Tokyo 2020 said the decision has been taken to avoid the extreme summer heat in Tokyo during the months of July and August, when the Games will be held. International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons has said it is “unlikely” that the Paralympic marathons, which are scheduled for September 8, will follow suit.

In recent weeks, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has publicly opposed the decision to move the Olympic marathon to Sapporo and expressed her wish to keep one of the Games’ most high-profile events in the capital.

Koike today (Friday) reiterated her opposition to the relocation, and was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: “I dare say, this is a decision without an agreement”.

She added: “We cannot agree or concur with the decision of the IOC. But the IOC has the final authority or change and we will not obstruct the decision.”

John Coates, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission for the Tokyo 2020 Games, said today: “I can understand the concerns of the people of Tokyo, but the IOC had to take the action to safeguard the health of the athletes.

“I know that the marathon has a special place in the heart of the Japanese. We don’t want children to have bad memories of Tokyo. With all the good work and preparations, we don’t want Tokyo being remembered for some of the scenes we have seen in Doha [during the IAAF World Championships].”

During the Coordination Commission meeting held today, it was agreed that the IOC has the authority to change the venue, and that the TMG will not be asked to bear the cost which is to be newly incurred when the events are moved to Sapporo.

The expenses already been made by the TMG and Tokyo 2020 for the marathon and race walk will be examined and verified. Expenses which the TMG cannot use for other purposes will not be borne by the TMG. It was also agreed that there will be no other venue changes in the lead-up to the Games.

Sapporo previously hosted the 1972 winter Olympic Games. In the coming weeks, the IOC will work with Tokyo 2020, the City of Sapporo and the Government of Hokkaido to determine the route and costs associated with moving the marathon to Japan’s northern island.

Tokyo 2020 chairman Yoshiro Mori said: “I know many people were looking forward to this event. We feel bad about this situation. IOC put a lot of consideration on this decision. We want the Games to be a big success.

“I contacted the Mayor of Sapporo, Katsuhiro Akimoto, and the governor of Hokkaido. Both said this opportunity is a great honour.”

The medal ceremonies for the marathon and the race walk event are under consideration to be held during the closing ceremony of the Games. IOC president Thomas Bach has also proposed an ‘Olympic Marathon Celebration’ to be held on the Tokyo marathon course after the Games.

Meanwhile, there have been calls for Tokyo 2020’s golf events to be moved to a cooler location amid concerns over the current host site, the Kasumigaseki Golf Club, which is about 50km northwest of Tokyo.

Shigefumi Matsuzawa, a member of Japan’s House of Councillors, has written to Bach to express his concerns over the site.

In a letter obtained by the Reuters news agency, Matsuzawa said: “The issue of measures against extremely hot weather is an especially serious problem.

“In 2017, a research team from Tokyo Metropolitan University published a paper…with observation results indicating that Kawagoe City in Saitama Prefecture, where Kasumigaseki is located, is the hottest place in Japan.

“The period between late July and early August is the hottest period in Japan’s summer, and so it is no exaggeration to say that forcibly holding an outdoor sporting event in the hottest region of Japan at this time is extremely irresponsible.”