IOC apologizes for abrupt plan to move Tokyo Olympic races; Sapporo mayor not notified

International Olympic Committee representative John Coates apologized to 2020 Games organizers for the abrupt announcement that it plans to move the marathon and race walks to Sapporo, but said it is necessary to avoid Tokyo's summer heat.
Speaking to Kyodo News, the chairman of the IOC's Coordination Commission for the 2020 Olympics said it is simply a "matter of implementation" to move the endurance events to the cooler climate in the capital of the country's northern main island of Hokkaido.
"For Tokyo 2020, it came as a bit of surprise and I understand that," he said. "But the problem is that you can't leave this up in the air. We had to move quickly and we didn't want speculation, we didn't want rumor and it was better to come out and say what our plan is."
The IOC announced Wednesday that it is planning to move the women's and men's marathons and race walking events to Sapporo, which came as a surprise to many athletes and officials in the Japanese city.
"The background is simple that we think that (Sapporo is) five to six degrees (cooler than Tokyo) just last year and an average over the last 10 years, it's a lot safer for the athletes," he said. "We want the athletes to have every opportunity to perform at their best. We now know that that's not possible in that heat (in Tokyo)."
Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto said he was not contacted by anyone from the IOC before the announcement.
"I first learned about it last night through inquiries from media organizations," he said at a press conference on Thursday. "We are surprised since it happened suddenly, but feel honored."
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.
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 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.
Coates said the governing body of athletics will make arrangements to carry out the plan, and that they are very positive about it.
Tokyo's deadly heat has been an ongoing issue for Olympic organizers. The women's marathon is set for Aug 2 with the men's a week later, and the start times had already been moved up to 6 a.m. in a bid to avoid the extreme heat and humidity expected in the Japanese capital.
However, Coates said the IOC started considering moving the events to Sapporo following the recently-concluded world championships in Doha, which saw many athletes not finishing the endurance events due to high temperatures.
"We were very worried that at the world championships, in comparable heat and running the races at midnight, in the women's race marathon 68 started and only 40 finished. It was a similar percentage in the road walks in the men," he said.
Despite having only informed the relevant stakeholders on Wednesday, Coates said he does not consider a lack of preparation time to be a problem.
For now, he said the IOC is not considering moving the dates of the events, while changing the starting times is a possibility.

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