Wednesday 22 January 2020

Heatwave deaths prompt concerns about Tokyo Olympics

Nine people died and thousands were taken to hospitals across Japan on Wednesday.

People under parasols in Tokyo (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
People under parasols in Tokyo (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

By Jim Armstrong, Associated Press

A deadly heatwave in Japan has many residents in Tokyo questioning the wisdom of staging the 2020 Olympics in July and August.

Nine people died and thousands were taken to hospital across the country on Wednesday as temperatures rose as high as 40.7C (105F) in central Japan.

Rescuers in Tokyo responded to more than 3,000 emergency calls, breaking the record of 2,900 set the previous day. A total of 317 people were taken to hospital.

The 2020 Olympics will run from July 24 to August 9, when temperatures in central Tokyo can exceed 35C.

A block of ice cools down a street in Tokyo (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Tokyo’s Application File to host the 2020 Games reads: “The pleasant weather conditions at this time of year will be ideal for athletes.”

But anyone who has spent a summer in Tokyo knows that is not necessarily the case.

Experts have warned the risk of heatstroke in Tokyo has escalated in recent years, while noting the Olympics are expected to take place in conditions when sports activities should normally be halted.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned of extremely high temperatures and has called on people to take precautions such as drinking water and using air conditioners.

In 1964, the Olympics in Tokyo were held in October, mostly to avoid the scorching heat, but that was before the Olympics became big business and TV contracts determined schedules.

Organisers are doing what they can but there is only so much that can be done to beat the heat.

Office workers rest in the shade of a building in Tokyo (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

During a visit to Tokyo last week, John Coates, the head of an International Olympic Committee inspection team, acknowledged the heat will be a huge challenge for organisers.

“We are mindful that we do have to prepare for extreme heat,” he said at a news conference. “You’re not the first country to host the games in extreme heat. It’s a natural consequence of being in July and August.”

Mr Coates said organisers should explore all options to combat the extreme heat.

The marathon and a number of other outside sport events will be held early in the morning to avoid scorching heat, a plan approved by the IOC showed.

The Japanese government and the Tokyo metropolitan government are planning to lay pavements that emit less surface heat and plant taller roadside trees, but many worry it will not be enough.

Mr Coates has urged Tokyo organisers to rely more heavily on foreign expertise in staging events where Japan does not have a strong background.

Authorities have been criticised by various sports federations over issues such as competition planning, water pollution and communication channels.

Some federations — including sailing — have raised concerns about Japan’s ability to deliver their events to an Olympic standard.

“The federations are not going to have to worry too much about karate or judo or baseball or softball — track and field, great experience there, swimming too – but you go to rowing, canoeing, some of those sports, and it is going to need greater reliance on the international federations, in terms of operational planning,” Kyodo News agency quoted him as saying.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News