Against Tokyo’s objections, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made its final decision, and the consensus is simple: the IOC and Tokyo’s governor Koike Yuriko are both losers. What decision was this exactly? Well, the marathon and race walking events during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics will take place in the city of Sapporo, located on the island of Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Shinkansen will take you from Tokyo to the city of Hakodate in about five hours, but the bullet train’s expansion to reach Sapporo is not yet complete. One can then opt to fly, which would be a short (albeit pricey) 1 ½ hour flight. Ergo, these events are taking place far from Tokyo. Very far, indeed.
Governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko, did not take the decision lightly. When the IOC announced that it was considering to move the events to Sapporo, Koike responded quickly, joking that they should be held on the islands disputed with Russia. A sensitive topic that made the comments particularly remarkable in Japan, and which showed the governor’s frustration with the IOC. Later on, and as it became clearer that the IOC had the final word despite not having even consulted this change with the Tokyo, Koike accepted the “painful” decision.
Tokyo’s anger is perfectly understandable. The city has been planning and investing a lot of taxpayers’ money on the Olympics, including all the preparations for events like the marathon. This decision, coming in less than a year before the Olympics take place, took everyone by surprise, and it rightfully justifies Koike’s defiance.
However, neither party is a winner in this debate. Both the IOC and Koike should be seen in a bad light because of the unfolding drama.
Let’s start with the governor of Tokyo. While it’s true that Tokyo has spent a considerable amount of money preparing for the Olympics, the city Has had record heat waves during the past two summers that have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Promoting the Tokyo Summer Olympics in August was and continues to be a very bad idea. Sure, there are many parties to blame, particularly those that want to make profits with broadcasting rights.
Putting it simply, Tokyo could still host the Olympic Games in any other season. In fact, the 1964 Olympics that came to define the Japan we all now today where held in October. So why host them in summer? One of the major reasons is that other sports events take place in fall, and the Olympics do not want to compete and lose viewers to these other sport events. Therefore, it’s not truly in Tokyo’s interest to host the Olympics in July and August, but rather, outside influence like that of the IOC is forcing cities that bid to host the Olympics to propose doing so during weeks that benefit the IOC’s pockets.
It is widely believed that the IOC only allows cities to host the Olympics during those summer months because 70 percent of the Olympics’ revenue comes from broadcasting rights, and the Olympics would simply not reach the same number of viewers were they taking place at the same time as football season.
This doesn’t mean that Tokyo officials are not to blame. Their desire to host these games made them ignore just how hot summers in archipelago are, which is simply unacceptable. As summers got hotter and hotter, Tokyo knew that all measures to ease the heat’s effects on athletes and spectators would be nothing more than slapping a Band-Aid.
However, let’s focus a little more on the IOC for a moment. Their decision to move the marathon and race walking events to Sapporo might seem like a heroic act against the evil Tokyo politicians that wanted to make athletes run in conditions that could result in health problems such as heatstroke. However, this decision is anything but heroic.
The IOC, just like Tokyo, had plenty of time to decide to move the events to Sapporo or change the Olympics dates altogether; and yet, they didn’t despite the numerous red flags that showed that Tokyo’s summers were not ideal for events like marathons. Furthermore, their drastic decision came to illustrate just how much authority the IOC has. Tokyo was simply left voiceless when the IOC decided to move the events, which highlights that the IOC always has the final word and thus could have spoken way sooner.
When the deadly heatwave of summer 2018 required over 70,000 people across the nation to be hospitalized, the IOC stood quiet. When the deadly 2019 summer heatwave has similar effects, the IOC still remained quiet. The IOC’s decision stems from what happened during the World Championships in Doha, where 28 out of 68 starters had to withdraw because of the scorching heat and terrible humidity, conditions that would be similar to those in Tokyo during the Olympics.
The terrible news surrounding what happened in Doha and what the poor athletes had to endure point fingers at the organizers and those who chose Doha as the host city despite knowing exactly what kind of weather the city experiences.
Ergo, the IOC’s very late decision is widely perceived as a move to save themselves from what would definitely be horrible publicity if athletes were to collapse or even die while participating in the marathon and race walking events during the much publicized Tokyo Olympics.
And the problem is not only Tokyo. The following Summer Olympics will take place in Los Angeles and Paris, which have also suffered heatwaves in recent years. As climate change continues to make summers even hotter, heatwaves more intense and common, and tropical storms like hurricanes and typhoons (which are the same, but have different names depending on the region in which they are) more powerful, it’s up to the IOC to make the necessary arrangements to make sure the Olympics do not take place in these months.
If the IOC truly cared about the athletes that will be competing in these events, they would have made the decision to move the marathon and race walking events to Sapporo a long time ago; and there would already be talks to address the risks climate change poses on the Olympics. So, while many applaud the IOC’s decision, the move to Sapporo actually comes too little too late; and since the discussions to move these events are taking place less than one year before the Olympics, it inevitably races the question as to what the IOC’s real motives behind this decision are.
I for once, do not see the IOC as the heroes of this story, and neither should you.