Tokyo, IOC feud over 2020 Olympic marathon venue | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 30.10.2019
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Tokyo, IOC feud over 2020 Olympic marathon venue

Fearing for competitors' safety in potentially scalding heat, the IOC recently decided to move the 2020 Olympic marathon from Tokyo to Sapporo. Tokyo's mayor is now lashing out at the "unprecedented" move.

Leichtathletik: Marathon Grand Championship in Japan (picture-alliance/Kyodo)

The Marathon Grand Championship in Tokyo served as a test event for the 2020 Olympic Games

The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to move the 2020 Olympic marathon and race walk 800 kilometers (500 miles) north to Sapporo has not gone down well with Tokyo's Governor Yuriko Koike.

At a regular Coordination Commission meeting on Wednesday, Koike insisted that the race remain in the Japanese capital, claiming that the abrupt decision to move both events to Sapporo was made without consulting Tokyo or local organizers.

Read more: 2020 Olympic Games: Tokyo's crisis-ridden preparations

"It is my wish for the marathon and race walk to be held in Tokyo," Koike said. "We consider it an unprecedented turn of events to make such an abrupt proposal with no consultation or discussion whatsoever with the host city Tokyo."

Earlier this month, the IOC announced that the marathon and race walk events at the 2020 Olympic Games, for which Tokyo is the host city, would be moved to Sapporo. John Coates, the IOC's Coordination Commission chief for the 2020 Games, said he wants Tokyo to understand the reasons for the switch.

"We owe it to the people of Tokyo to make sure they are fully briefed," Coates said.

Tokyos Bürgermeisterin Yuriko Koike und John Coates, ein Vorsitzender der Koordinationskommission des IOC (picture-alliance/AP Images/Y. Shimbun)

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (left) and IOC Coordination Committee chairman John Coates (right)

Turning up the heat

In its decision to move the marathon to Sapporo, the IOC said it was thinking of the athletes first, fearing that scorching summer temperatures would threaten athlete safety. Tokyo temperatures in July and August, when the Olympic Games are set to take place, regularly exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). 

The IOC fears a repeat of the men's and women's marathon at the recent world track and field championships in Doha, Qatar. Of the 68 competitors who participated in the women's marathon, where temperatures for the start in Doha were 32.7 degrees Celsius, 28 failed to finish the race. Similarly, 18 of the 73 competitors in the men's marathon failed to complete the course.

Read more: Opinion: Everyone's a loser at the World Athletics Championships in Qatar

Arial view of Sapporo, where the 2020 Olympic marathon is set to take place (picture-alliance/AP Images/Y. Shimbun)

The IOC decided to move the Olympic marathon to Sapporo, where summer temperatures are expected to be cooler than Tokyo

But the move from Tokyo to Sapporo has raised questions about who will pay if the move goes through. Taro Shirato and Hiroshi Yamada, two members of Koike's political party in Tokyo's metropolitan legislature, said Tuesday that moving the marathon would cost at least 34 billion yen (€280 million, $310 million). Koike allies say the Tokyo governor has not ruled out a lawsuit to recover damages.

"Although they (the IOC) talk about so-called athletes first, this can only be perceived as IOC first," Shirato said through an interpreter.

"You get the sense that no considerations have been made for the athletes or the spectators who had already bought tickets and who were looking forward to these events, or the potential spectators who will be cheering on the streets, and also the people involved in the operation."

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Organizing concerns

The spat over the location of the 2020 Olympic marathon is the latest in a series of big question marks surrounding the Tokyo Games.

For starters, next summer's Olympiad is apparently significantly over budget. Tokyo said in its Olympic hosting bid in 2013 that the Games would cost $7.3 billion. However, a government audit report last year said Tokyo was spending about $25 billion to organize the event, all of which is public funding outside of $5.6 billion from a privately financed operating budget.

To make matters worse, this summer's scalding temperatures have cancelled several test events for next year's Olympics. A Paralympic test swim at Tokyo's Odaiba Marine Park on August 17 was called off over high E.coli levels in the water, and swimmers partaking in a marathon test event at the same location a week before complained of smelly water and high water temperatures.

dv (AP, Reuters)

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