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EDITORIAL | Can Sapporo be Prepared for the Olympic Marathon in Just 9 Months?



The surprise decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to relocate the marathon and race walking events of the 2020 Olympic Games from host city Tokyo to Sapporo in Hokkaido was officially finalized on November 1.


The decision has not only sent the Tokyo Metropolitan Government into a deep funk, it also has created a time crunch for making necessary preparations for the events, as there are just nine months left before the 2020 Olympics open.


The IOC demanded the relocation, citing concerns for the health of athletes competing in Tokyo’s sweltering August weather. The change was made after four-party talks among representatives from the national government, the Tokyo government, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, and the IOC.


However, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike made no effort to hide her discontent with the decision and the IOC’s treatment of the host city, saying, “We don’t agree, but the decision is what it is.”


Sapporo is the venue for the Hokkaido Marathon, staged every August. However, interest in that event is nothing compared to the hoopla surrounding the Olympics, which raises questions as to whether the northern city can be ready in time. Can it enlist an adequate number of volunteers? Can it be ready to provide security for the event, including ensuring the safety of spectators along the marathon route?


We hope that the authorities responsible will finish the necessary planning and begin the actual preparations as soon as possible.


Although Sapporo’s August temperatures and humidity are generally lower than those of Tokyo, they are still higher than the conditions of winter races in which the top runners participate. Moreover, considering the abnormal weather that has buffeted Japan in recent years, we cannot assume that actual temperatures on the day of the big race will be as cool as are projected. If “athletes first” really is the top priority, then Sapporo will need to implement countermeasures as comprehensive as those Tokyo put in place to deal with the possibility of heat.  


The Tokyo government has taken the position that it should not have to bear any additional costs entailed by the relocation of the marathon events. That position is completely understandable. The marathon events are among the most popular of all the Olympic events, and Tokyo saw broadcasting of the events as a golden opportunity to show off the appeal of its neighborhoods and architecture to a world audience.


Now that the IOC has unilaterally broken its promises and made light of Tokyo’s position despite extensive preparations on the part of the city, it is the IOC’s responsibility to bear the additional costs.


It is also strange that the IOC has not seen it fit to apologize to the Japanese marathon athletes who had looked forward to crossing the goal before a full crowd in the New National Stadium in Tokyo.


It appears that the Hokkaido Marathon course will serve as the basis for the Olympic Marathon. The International Amateur Athletics Federation has indicated that it would like to see the five marathon and walking events consolidated into a three-day framework. Under the original plan, they were scheduled to take place on separate days. These events would likely be staged at the end of July, before the slated kickoff of track and field events, or else on August 7-9.


It goes without saying that the inclinations of the Japanese side should be given full weight in the decision-making process.


Governor Koike hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that if the Summer Olympics are staged in any urban area in the Northern Hemisphere during the hottest months of July and August, then conditions are going to be severe. That is something that should be carefully mulled over if we are going to be talking about “athletes first.”


The last time Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics was in 1964, when the world’s premier sports pageant was held in October.


Is the perspective of the athletes themselves really being taken into account? It seems that the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) and other authorities in Japan’s sports world remain far from enlightened in this regard.


Click here for more news related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.


(Click here to read the editorial in Japanese.)


Author: The Sankei Shimbun Editorial Committee