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IOC, Tokyo Olympic organizers 'decide' on Sapporo marathon move: Bach

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach attends a press conference after the 134th IOC session in Lausanne, Switzerland, on June 26, 2019. (Kyodo)

DOHA (Kyodo) -- International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Thursday the governing body and local organizers have "decided" to stage the 2020 Summer Games marathon and race walking events in Sapporo in order to avoid Tokyo's extreme heat in early August.

"The organizing committee, together with the special IOC working group, is working hard to address these issues and how we put the interests of the athletes first," Bach said in Doha.

Tokyo organizing committee chief Yoshiro Mori told reporters in Tokyo that he considers the change "unavoidable," as countermeasures against the deadly heat remain a nagging problem with less than a year left until the Japanese capital hosts the Olympics.

"It's unavoidable from the standpoint of considering countermeasures against the heat. It is obvious we need to accept it as the organizing committee," he said.

Mori said studies of possible courses for the Sapporo races needed to be undertaken, but he indicated that Bach favored a route starting and ending at Sapporo Dome.

Refunds would be offered for marathon and race walk tickets already sold, he added, with the IOC potentially bearing any additional costs arising from the relocation.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Thursday said she was taken aback by the proposed relocation but would work with the IOC to discuss the best possible outcome, while also taking into consideration the safety of the athletes.

The IOC announced its plan Wednesday to move the women's and men's marathons and race walking events to Sapporo, surprising many athletes as well as officials in the northern Japanese city.

While Mori said he understands it is still a "proposal" by the IOC, both parties have been positive about the idea.

The IOC Coordination Commission will convene a special session during meetings running from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Tokyo, dedicated to heat countermeasures.

IOC representative John Coates on Wednesday apologized to the 2020 Games organizers for the abrupt announcement of the planned move but said it is necessary to avoid Tokyo's summer heat.

"For Tokyo 2020, it came as a bit of surprise and I understand that," he said. "But the problem is that you can't leave this up in the air."

"We had to move quickly and we didn't want speculation, we didn't want rumor, and it was better to come out and say what our plan is."

Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto said he was not contacted by anyone from the IOC before the announcement.

"I first learned about it last night through inquiries from media organizations," he said at a press conference on Thursday.

Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, had planned to bid for the 2026 Winter Games but pulled out with an eye to holding the 2030 edition.

Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki released a statement saying the prefecture would "take all possible measures for the success (of the marathon and walking events)."

Coates said the process moved very quickly, with talks about the relocation only taking place over the past week. He said the governing body of athletics will make arrangements to carry out the plan, and that they are very positive about it.

Tokyo's heat has been an ongoing issue for Olympic organizers. The women's marathon is set for Aug. 2 and the men's a week later, with the start times having already been moved up to 6 a.m. in a bid to avoid the extreme heat and humidity expected in the Japanese capital.

Despite having informed the relevant stakeholders of the move just on Wednesday, Coates said he did not consider a lack of preparation time to be a problem. For now, he said, the IOC is not considering moving the dates of the events, while changing the starting times is a possibility.

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