Cherry blossom Olympics: could Tokyo 2020 delay beat the heat?

Tokyo (AFP) –


Every cloud has a silver lining and the devastating postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics could hand organisers a heaven-sent opportunity to solve their other massive problem: the summer heat.

The historic decision to delay the Games due to the coronavirus pandemic gave Tokyo a wide range of options when rescheduling: the Games will be held "beyond 2020, but not later than summer 2021."

This leaves open the possibility of a spring Olympics when the weather in Tokyo is at its finest and removes at a stroke the worries about athletes and fans suffering in the brutal heat and humidity of Japan's summer.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike confirmed the postponement had opened up this tantalising option -- that would also give her the opportunity of reclaiming the marathon which before the postponement was shifted to the northern city of Sapporo over heat fears.

"Since we are in this situation, one idea is to have (the IOC) move the date to a time that is not hot," she said.

She later added with a smile: "I think Tokyo would be good" to host the marathon if temperatures were less fierce.

IOC chief Thomas Bach himself has said rescheduling "is not restricted just to the summer months. All the options are on the table, before and including the summer of 2021."

And it was clearly on the mind of Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori, even in the immediate aftermath of the crushing postponement.

"We are trying to set a new schedule to be done by the summer. It might be earlier... As a result, if the hottest part of the summer could be avoided, wouldn't that be a happy thing," he said just minutes after the postponement.

- 'Jigsaw puzzle' -

Bach has described the unprecedented task of reorganising the world's biggest sports event as a huge "jigsaw puzzle" and any rearranged date brings challenges.

A spring Olympics would clash with the end of the European football season, as well as baseball and basketball playoffs in the US, noted Marcus Luer, CEO of sports branding firm Total Sports Asia.

"I like the general idea, April-May is a beautiful time in Japan, it makes sense from that point," he told AFP.

But the clashes make it "too complicated and hard," he said.

However, any rescheduling involves clashes -- a summer Games would require athletics and swimming to move their World Championships.

In terms of cost, organisers had already put aside huge sums for innovative antidotes to the summer heat and humidity, including heat-absorbing road paint, water sprinklers, and even fake snow.

After admitting that the delay will cause "massive" extra spending, Tokyo 2020 would surely welcome the savings if anti-heat measures were no longer required.

"The compensation and new spending required would probably be lower if the Olympics happened in spring rather than summer," one representative from a sporting federation, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.

But some federations believe that having postponed the Games for health reasons, organisers should think twice about risking the health of athletes and fans by exposing them to the Tokyo summer.

President of the International Federation for Equestrian Sport Ingmar de Vos urged Tokyo 2020 and the IOC to "find a date where there will be less heat and less humidity."

"But why not, for the IOC to look at it again and choose dates which are better from a weather point of view. It's maybe an opportunity," he added.

The IOC is reportedly looking to make the decision in a few weeks, with powerful chief coordinator John Coates quoted in the Yomiuri Shimbun as leaning towards a summer Games.

The modern Olympic Games have been a moveable feast and organisers could point to historical precedent in considering a spring time slot.

The last time Tokyo held the Olympics, in 1964, they were held in October, as were the following Games in Mexico City.

The early versions of the modern Olympics were held in spring -- starting in April or May for Athens 1896, Paris 1900, London 1908 and Stockholm 1912 (St Louis 1904 was timed to coincide with an international exhibition and lasted from July to November).

Speaking before the postponement was announced, the IOC's former head of marketing Michael Payne told AFP: "Summer 2021 is the best option -- indeed the only option."