Plan to move Olympic marathon, walking stirs Tokyo dissent

Tokyo (AFP) –


Tokyo's governor said Friday she opposes moving next year's Olympic marathon and race-walking events to northern Japan over heat fears, describing the proposal as a "bolt from the blue."

The International Olympic Committee announced earlier this month it would propose shifting the marathon and race walking to northern Japan's Sapporo over persistent concerns that Tokyo's summer heat could pose health risks for athletes.

Local media reported overnight Thursday that Tokyo may counter that proposal by suggesting keeping the marathon in the capital but moving the start time to as early as 3am.

Governor Yuriko Koike, speaking on Japan's Fuji TV, reiterated her unhappiness with the proposed move.

"I didn't agree with (moving events to) Sapporo," she said.

"The expression 'a bolt from the blue' would be appropriate," she added, when asked for her reaction when she heard about the plan.

She said the Tokyo government was looking at counter-proposals, including starting the events earlier, though not as early as 3am.

"There is such a plan, some reports say 3am, but that would not be the case," she said, without specifying further.

The IOC's announcement appeared to take Japanese officials across the board by surprise, with the mayor of Sapporo saying he had not been consulted either.

Tokyo has spent heavily on heat mitigation measures, including coating the route of the marathon with material that is supposed to reduce the impact of the city's notoriously warm and sticky summer weather.

And some tickets have already been sold, raising additional complications.

"There are voices among Tokyo residents who want explanations as to why this situation is occurring, and if a word from on high simply decides everything," Koike said.

The governor is expected to meet later Friday with John Coates, chairman of the IOC's Coordination Commission.

He has defended the proposed move, while acknowledging it "came as a bit of (a) surprise" for the Tokyo organisers.

The decision came after the recent world championships in Doha, when both the men's and women's marathons started at midnight but heat and humidity still presented massive problems.