Japanese govt backs shifting of Tokyo 2020 marathon to Sapporo

The government of Japan on Thursday stressed the need to protect the health of athletes, a day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced plans to shift some road running events of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to the northern city of Sapporo.

The IOC had said on Wednesday that it was planning to transfer the marathon and race walking events to Sapporo, around 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Tokyo, in order to prevent the extreme heat expected during the Games affecting athletes’ participation in the event.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, when asked about the development in his daily press conference, said the heat was a very important issue and one had to put the “athletes first,” adding that he would continue coordinating with the organizers on the subject, reports Efe news.

Suga said the topic would be discussed at a special meeting later this month between the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Tokyo authorities and the IAAF, among others.

However, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Wednesday that the move was announced “abruptly,” adding that she was surprised by the decision to move one of the most important Olympic events out of the city.

She emphasized that a series of measures were taken to tackle the heat, and the route of the marathon and race walks had been decided in coordination with the organizers and the IOC, apart from planning an early morning start.

Koike said the Tokyo government and the organizing committee would be asking for a complete explanation.

In Sapparo, city mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto said they were honoured by the responsibility and offered “maximum cooperation” for the preparations, local news agency Kyodo reported.

Sapporo, which had hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, is now preparing to make a bid for the 2030 edition of the event.

IOC said the decision was part of a wide range of measures being taken to mitigate the effects of possible high temperatures next summer.

The women’s marathon had been scheduled to take place on August 2 and the men’s on August 9, with start times being pushed back to 6 a.m. to avoid the highest temperatures.

The 50-kilometre walk event was to take place on August 8 with a 5.30 a.m. start, while the 20-km women’s event was to be held on August 7 and the men’s on July 31, with both scheduled to start at 6 a.m.

Sapporo is situated in the extreme north of Japan, on the island of Hokkaido, with temperatures much lower than the Japanese capital.

“In Sapporo, temperatures during the Games period are as much as five to six degrees centigrade cooler during the day than in Tokyo, which is more than 800 kilometres further south,” the IOC said in a press release announcing the shift.