LANE ONE: IOC moves Tokyo marathons and walks, but are there still more events to be moved?

The International Olympic Committee’s ninth Coordination Commission meeting is underway in Tokyo, and there is a lot to talk about with less than a year to go to the Opening Ceremony on 24 July 2020.

Normally, the talk is not about changing venues at this late stage, but it’s absolutely on the table right now.

The IOC announced on 16 October that the men’s and women’s marathons and the three race-walking events were “planned” to be moved from Tokyo to Sapporo, about 516 miles north, where the weather will be considerably cooler.

The statement noted that the “The implementation of the initiative to move the marathon and the race walks will be discussed with all the stakeholders concerned, in particular the host city Tokyo, along with World Athletics, the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) and the Rights-Holding Broadcasters (RHBs). The IOC Coordination Commission for Tokyo 2020, chaired by IOC Member John Coates, has dedicated a special session in its meeting from 30 October to 1 November in Tokyo to heat countermeasures.”

However, Yuriko Koike, the Tokyo Governor and head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was less than impressed, saying “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 beforehand.”

Tokyo city officials had floated the idea of holding the events at 3 a.m. or 5 a.m. were dismissed by the IOC, but Coates said last week that “It’s not a matter of if the Tokyo government insists. The decision has been taken.The IOC Executive Board is the competent authority to take a decision such as this.”

He added that the IOC has “a responsibility under the Olympic Charter to always put the health of athletes first.” The sight of 28 of 68 women abandoning the recent IAAF World Championships marathon in Doha, Qatar – held at midnight – and 18 of 73 men had an impact on the IOC’s thinking.

But it’s getting more complicated:

The Independent reported that “Taro Shirato and Hiroshi Yamada, members of Koike’s political party in the metropolitan legislature, told a news conference Tuesday that moving the marathon would cost at least $34 billion yen, about $310 million.”

Yamada noted that “In the event this is changed to Sapporo, then I believe the citizens of Tokyo will not be convinced they need to pay. What I can say is that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government should not be the one to pay.”

● The head of the Tokyo organizing committee, Toshiro Mori, was resigned to the change and said “Can we say no to the plan that the IOC and International Association of Athletics Federations already supported?” Mori said. “It’s not a question of good or bad, but we just have to accept it.”

But he added, “Our overall cost has become a humongous amount, so it would cause us pain if the cost is added to our bill. 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.”

● For the IOC, Coates was reported to comment “To accommodate those affected by the decision, Coates said ticket holders and the parents of athletes will be reimbursed and the IOC is open to discussing the possibility of organizing athletic programs for underprivileged youth in Tokyo. He also proposed holding a parade in the lead-up to the closing ceremony on Aug. 9 for medal winners in the marathon and race-walking events, as well as other athletes competing outside of Tokyo, such as those taking part in sailing competitions in Enoshima and cyclists in Izu.”

However, this cannot be the end of the changes.

What about the Open Water swimming and the triathlon?

The 11 August test event for the Open Water events showed that water temperature will be a major issue, along with water quality. Consider:

● The international aquatics federation (FINA) has a rule prohibiting racing in water temperatures of 31 C (~88 F). The temperatures at the test event were right at that level with a 7:30 a.m. start time.

● The International Triathlon Union (ITU) rules require shortening the distance from 1,500 m to 750 m with water temps from 31-32 C (~88 to 90 F) and that swimming cannot be held in water above 32.0 C.

The FINA Secretary General, Cornel Marculescu (ROU) told reporters in August that it was monitoring the situation with an independent consultant. “Based on this information, we will decide the time the event will start. Could be 5 a.m., could be 5:30 a.m., can be 6 a.m., can be 6:30 a.m. — depends on the water temperature.

“Working with a specialized company like we are going to do here in Tokyo, we will have the right information to take the right decision.”

But swimmers themselves have raised the issue of what the water temp is at the start of the race and what it is at the end. With the 10 km races taking about two hours to complete, that’s a significant issue.

The triathletes swim for 18-20 minutes (1,500 m), bike for about an hour (40 km) and run a 10 km course in 30-33 minutes, for a total of 1:45-2:00. So their exposure is significant as well.

It is hard to imagine the IOC ignoring the issue of open-water swimming in Tokyo; perhaps Coates is raising it now with the Tokyo organizers and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. There are whispers that these changes are inevitable and that the IOC simply has to find a suitable diplomatic process to make these changes without further angering the hosts, especially the government.

And who pays for what will be a significant issue. With a budget of $12.6 billion U.S. vs. the bid projection of $7.3 billion, there is considerable sensitivity on costs. Where have we heard that before?

As we heard from engineer extraordinaire Montgomery Scott in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), “Buckle up, lassie. It gets bumpy from here.”

Rich Perelman

If you enjoyed this commentary, sign up to receive our exclusive TSX Intelligence Report by e-mail by clicking here. You can also refer a friend by clicking here.