TOKYO (AP) – The IOC has a full-blown fight on its hands trying to move next year’s Olympic marathon from steamy Tokyo to the cooler northern city of Sapporo.
The powerful Olympic body is up against Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who was once viewed as a possible Japanese prime minister candidate and is one of the country’s most astute politicians.
She’s now casting herself as the champion of the 35 million people who live in greater Tokyo, who want their metropolis showcased as runners wind over streets lined by shrines, temples and skyscrapers.
The marathons and race walks are also some of the few events that allow free admission, a precious commodity with Olympic tickets hard to find in Japan.
At the opening Wednesday of three days of meetings with the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo officials, Koike lashed out at the proposed change announced suddenly two week ago by the IOC.
“It is my wish for the marathon and race walk to be held in Tokyo,” Koike said, speaking both in English and Japanese.
Sitting at a front table with top IOC officials John Coates and Christophe Dubi – and facing hundreds of sponsors and Olympic officials – Koike said the announcement “came as a tremendous shock.”
“We consider it an unprecedented turn of events for the IOC to make such an abrupt proposal with no consultation or discussion whatsoever with the host city Tokyo,” Koike said.
The IOC said it made the move after seeing runners collapse in extreme heat at marathons at the world track and field championships earlier this month in Doha, Qatar.
IOC President Thomas Bach saw the television scenes and doesn’t want them repeated to billions of Olympic viewers.
“This was a decision that was taken quickly,” Coates acknowledged. “It was a decision that was taken as a consequence of what we saw in Doha.”
At one point Koike looked down the front table at Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, and reminded him that earlier this year he had lauded Tokyo’s measures to beat the summer heat: running early, providing shade for fans, and installing heat-resistant pavement.
“They were highly evaluated by you Mr. Dubi. Right?” she asked.
He nodded in agreement with Koike.
Koike said in the next several days she wanted a “detailed explanation … that can be understood by the people of Tokyo.”
Coates, a powerful IOC member and lawyer from Australia who oversees frequent inspections of Tokyo’s progress, has repeatedly said the IOC will go ahead with its plans.
He said he had already told Koike this. But he said the IOC, Koike, representatives from the national government, and local organizers would meet Friday in a working group.
But again, he suggested it was a done deal.
“I see this very much as using that political working group to set the framework as to how we implement these changes in a way that is acceptable to everyone,” Coates said.
One Tuesday, political allies of Koike in the municipal legislature told a news conference that moving the marathon would cost at least $34 billion yen (about $310 million). Maybe more.
They also raised questions about who will pay for any changes – or reimburse Tokyo – and did not rule out a lawsuit.
Tokyo city officials acknowledge the city is hot in the summer. But so were Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004. City officials have offered to start the marathon at 5 a.m., which is at sunrise in the Tokyo summer.
Estimates suggest the temperature would be 27 degrees C (81 degrees F) at 5 a.m., and would be 25.4 degrees C (78 degrees F) in Sapporo for a 7 a.m. start.
The starting temperature in Doha for the women’s marathon was 32.7 degrees C (91 degrees F).
Tokyo’s soaring costs are also a major issue with the Olympics opening on July 24, 2020.
A government audit report last year said Tokyo was spending about $25 billion to organize the Olympics, all of which is public money except for $5.6 billion from a privately financed operating budget.
Tokyo said in its bid in 2013 that the Olympics would cost $7.3 billion.
Toshiro Mori, the head of the organizing committee and a former Japanese prime minister, acknowledge a few days ago that change could be costly.
“Our overall cost has become a humongous amount, so it would cause us pain if the cost is added to our bill,” Mori said. “So I mentioned that to Mr. Coates, and he said he will look into it. We won’t be able to pay if it’s a significant damage to our finances. I have reminded him of that.”
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