The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has announced that it is planning to move the Olympic marathon and race walking events to Sapporo, the host city of the Olympic Winter Games 1972.
The move to Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan, will mean significantly lower temperatures for the athletes during the Olympic Games. In Sapporo, temperatures during the Games period are as much as five to six degrees centigrade cooler during the day than in Tokyo, which is more than 800 kilometres further south.
The plans are part of a wide range of measures already being taken by Tokyo 2020 in consultation with the IOC and the International Federations to mitigate the effects of the temperatures which may occur next summer. The IOC has informed World Athletics about the proposed changes.
This latest initiative by the IOC and Tokyo 2020 comes on top of other heat countermeasures which are already planned and being implemented on the recommendations of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission Adverse Weather Impact Expert Working Group (the IOC Working Group). They are:
- Athletics: 5,000m and longer distance races scheduled in the evening athletics sessions and not in the morning sessions, and moving the marathon and race walk events to earlier starting times.
- Rugby: all morning games scheduled to finish before 12 p.m.
- Cycling: mountain bike start time delayed to 3 p.m.
The IOC Working Group identified the marathon and race walk as the events that would put particular heat stress on the athletes.
Regarding other events and competitions, the IOC Working Group concluded previously that the timing of those events should be kept under review and may not need to be changed at this moment, assuming that the prevention, mitigation and treatment measures it recommended for each event and each group (athletes, workforce, officials and spectators) are implemented.
Many of these measures have been trialled in test events this summer. These include better shade, water sprays, better access to water supplies and an initiative to help the athletes in their preparations via detailed information on Athlete365.
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.
During its meeting, the Coordination Commission will also have the opportunity to discuss the survey by Tokyo 2020 of the International Federations and their advice regarding heat countermeasures. As part of its athlete-centred approach, the Organising Committee has reached out to each International Federation with a heat countermeasure questionnaire on top of the many measures already taken.
Heat was already taken into consideration when Tokyo presented its candidature in 2013, and since then the IOC and the Organising Committee have continued to monitor the situation. The measures proposed today, and those already adopted, take the changing landscape into account as the IOC continues to put athlete health and performance at the heart of its decision-making.
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “Athletes’ health and well-being are always at the heart of our concerns. A range of measures to protect the athletes have already been announced. The new far-reaching proposals to move the marathon and race walking events show how seriously we take such concerns. The Olympic Games are the platform where athletes can give ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ performances, and these measures ensure they have the conditions to give their best. I would like to thank World Athletics, and we look forward to working with them on the implementation.”
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said: "We have been working closely with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the potential weather conditions at next year’s Olympic Games and will continue to work with the IOC and Tokyo 2020 on the proposal to move the road events to Sapporo. Giving athletes the best platform for their performances within the environment they are in is central to all major events, and we will work with the organisers to create the very best marathon and race walk courses for next year’s Olympic Games.”