Olympics-Tokyo organisers bid to allay Sapporo test event concerns

FILE PHOTO: Tokyo 2020 Games Operations Bureau Deputy Executive Director Yasuo Mori speaks during a news conference organised by "Hokkaido Sapporo marathon Festival 2021" prior to the half-marathon race of tomorrow which doubles as a test event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in Sapporo, Japan May 4, 2021. Charly Triballeau/Pool via REUTERS

SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - Tokyo Olympic organisers acknowledged on Tuesday that Sapporo residents were concerned about a marathon test event being held in the northern Japanese city amid a rise in COVID-19 cases and said they were implementing measures to hold the event safely.

The marathon test event - actually a half-marathon and a 10K race - will be held on Tuesday starting from Sapporo's Odori park. Yasuo Mori, Tokyo 2020's deputy executive director of the Games operations bureau, addressed the concerns amid a record rise in coronavirus infections in the city. "We are fully aware (Sapporo) residents feel uneasy with the current situation, and we are carrying out various steps as we want to prepare for an event where people can feel even a little bit more at ease," Mori told a news conference. In Hokkaido, new daily cases hit a record 326 on Sunday, public broadcaster NHK reported. The prefecture plans to call for stronger anti-virus measures in Sapporo including shorter restaurant hours and for more people to work from home.

The test event was scaled down greatly due to the coronavirus situation with only 93 runners planning to take part in the half marathon. General entry for 2,500 runners was cancelled. Mori also spoke about the "stringent measures" put in place for testing the six foreign athletes who have entered the country for the event, with daily screenings required and no public transportation allowed. The Olympic marathon and race walk events are scheduled to be held from Aug. 5 to 8 in Sapporo. They were originally planned to take place in Tokyo but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) surprised Games organisers in October 2019 by announcing the events would be moved to Sapporo to avoid the worst of Tokyo’s summer heat.

The decision did not go down well with Tokyo organisers, who had done extensive planning for the events, including a series of cooling measures for the athletes, nor with the Tokyo governor, who reluctantly consented to the move.

The pandemic, however, has eclipsed worries about the heat. Tokyo and three other areas are under a state of emergency as the authorities try to halt a resurgence in coronavirus cases with less than three months before the Games open.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher, editing by Ed Osmond)

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