SAPPORO – Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto on Thursday welcomed the International Olympic Committee’s plan to move the 2020 Tokyo Games marathon and race walking events to his city on Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido.
“We are surprised since it happened suddenly, but feel honored,” Akimoto told a press conference a day after the IOC’s abrupt announcement, which reflected worries about expected extreme heat in Tokyo during the Summer Games.
Given that Sapporo is trying to stage the Winter Olympics in 2030, Akimoto said that “making the 2020 games a success” would be important for the city and that it is prepared to give “maximum cooperation.”
But the mayor of the host city of the 1972 Winter Olympics said the schedule is “tight” and that it needs to hold talks with the IOC.
He said the negotiations will be based on the principle that the sport’s governing body will pay all necessary costs for moving the road events to Sapporo, except those for facilities to remain in the city after the games.
He also said the city government has yet to be notified by the IOC of its plan.
“I first learned about it last night through inquiries from media organizations,” he said.
Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki released a statement saying the prefecture would “take all possible measures for the success (of the marathon and walking events).”
The IOC said Wednesday the proposal, if realized, would mean the men’s and women’s athletic road events could be held with “significantly lower temperatures,” about 5 C to 6 C cooler than in Tokyo.
The IOC’s plan emerged weeks after many runners dropped out of marathon and race walking events at the track and field world championships in Doha due to sweltering conditions, despite the races starting at midnight.
“Athletes’ health and well-being are always at the heart of our concerns,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “The Olympic Games are the platform where athletes can give ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ performances, and these measures ensure they have the conditions to give their best.”
The announcement struck Tokyo and Japanese Olympic officials out of the blue.
“It was pretty abrupt. Each municipality of the marathon course has been working hard so far,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters on Thursday.
The proposal will be discussed at the IOC Coordination Commission at a special session on heat countermeasures during its Oct. 30-Nov. 1 meeting in Tokyo.
“While there, I want to think about what would be the best (approach),” Koike said at the Tokyo metropolitan government building. She said she is aware that athlete-first arrangements are essential but that the matter should be addressed in a larger context of how to achieve the success of the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the central government will closely monitor further developments.
“Taking measures against the heat is an important issue from the viewpoint of putting athletes first and the government will coordinate well with Olympics organizers in this respect,” Suga said at a press conference in Tokyo.