TOKYO — After a bitter dispute with the International Olympic Committee, Tokyo’s governor said Friday she had reluctantly accepted organizers’ decision to switch next year’s Olympic marathons to the cooler northern city of Sapporo to avoid the capital’s stifling summer heat.
Gov. Yuriko Koike had resisted the IOC’s decision to move the marathons and race walks, arguing that adequate preparations had been made, at considerable cost, to counter the heat and that a last-minute change of plans was unfair to the host city and on spectators who had bought tickets in a fiercely competitive lottery.
But on Friday she acknowledged she could not stand in the way of the shift.
“I remain unchanged in the belief that the marathon and competitive walking events should take place in Tokyo. But as the host city, Tokyo must consider the importance of creating a framework for the games to succeed,” Koike said, according to public broadcaster NHK.
“So although I do not agree with the IOC decision, I will not interfere with the choice made by the authority vested with the right to deliver the final word.”
Temperatures in Tokyo in July and August, when the Games will be held, regularly exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with high humidity adding to the health risks for athletes. Last month, the IOC abruptly decided to shift the races 500 miles north to Sapporo, where daytime temperatures are often about 10 degrees cooler.
The IOC said it made the decision after President Thomas Bach saw television scenes of marathon runners collapsing in extreme heat at the world track and field championships last month in Doha, Qatar.
The dispute had risked creating a bitter mood in the run-up to the Games, with Koike arguing a successful Tokyo Olympics depended on trust between the host city and the IOC. It came to a head during this week’s visit by an IOC delegation led by John Coates, the head of its Coordination Commission.
But the central government and Games organizers said they were grateful it had now been resolved.
“I pay a great respect from the bottom of my heart to Governor Koike, who had made a tough decision,” said Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee. “I hope to see the Olympics being held with all of us becoming one team.”
Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto and the IOC’s Coates also expressed their thanks to Koike for the decision and for putting the health of athletes first.
“I’m very aware of the special place of the marathon in the minds of Japanese citizens,” Coates told a news conference. “Sure, we want good memories for the children, the next generation of athletes and distance runners. We also didn’t want bad memories.
“We did not want Tokyo being remembered, both in the minds of your people but also in minds internationally, by some of the scenes we saw in Doha.”
Coates said there had been a divide among athletes, between those who had prepared for the heat in Tokyo, and another, African group, who were in favor of the move to Sapporo. But the decision had to be made looking at the “lowest common denominator” in terms of athletes’ health, he said.
He also read out a letter from Bach in which the IOC president asked for the understanding of the people of Tokyo for the decision. The IOC also agreed that Tokyo will not have to pay for moving the marathon and race walks, and to reimburse some of the some costs the city had incurred to stage the race.
As concerns mounted over the heat, the IOC initially decided last year to move up the start time for the marathons to 6 a.m. and race walks to 5:30 a.m. but then concluded this wasn’t good enough.
Tokyo and the IOC had sidestepped concerns about Tokyo’s high summer temperatures when bidding for and awarding the Games to the Japanese capital in 2013.
Tokyo’s bid boasted of “many days of mild and sunny weather” ideal for athletes to perform at their best, while the IOC noted it had selected the city for “climatic reasons.”
The real reason for holding the Games in the summer, experts say, is not the climate but money: It is the most profitable time, to fit in with the demands of U.S. and global television broadcasters.