Photo/IllutrationSapporo Dome is being considered for the start and finish line of the proposed Tokyo Olympic marathons in the northern city. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The International Olympic Committee’s plan to move Tokyo Olympic marathon and race walking events to Sapporo may have angered or dismayed people involved in the preparations.

But priority should be placed on the health of athletes and the safety of spectators.

The IOC said the International Association of Athletics Federations, the global track and field’s governing body, has already approved its proposal.

Sapporo can offer better conditions for marathons than Tokyo, where the midsummer heat could be blistering. The city also has experience of holding an international-level marathon every August.

The Tokyo metropolitan government and the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee should accept the proposal and work with the Sapporo municipal government to prepare for Olympic marathons in the northern city.

Test events for the Tokyo Olympics held this summer underscored afresh that the sweltering heat in the capital can pose a serious health hazard for athletes.

The Asahi Shimbun said in an editorial, “there should be no hesitation about a bold change of plan and a shift in thinking.”

The health hazard, in particular, could be a matter of life and death for marathoners and race walkers, who challenge the limits of their stamina.

Some measures have been adopted to deal with the problem, such as moving up the time when the marathon races will start and resurfacing the course with material that reflects heat. But they have failed to erase concerns.

The track and field world championships held recently in Qatar ended up being a spectacular showcase of heat-related problems for endurance races.

Marathon and race walk events were held late at night, but many athletes withdrew because of the extreme heat.

A senior IOC official, alarmed by what happened in Doha, told The Asahi Shimbun that the IOC does not want the Tokyo Olympics to end up being remembered for many marathoners retiring. The official’s concern is fully understandable.

The question is rather why the IOC--and the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee--failed to make such a radical change--if it was possible--much earlier and start making the necessary adjustments.

Track and field events have been a part of modern Olympic history ever since the inaugural Olympics. The men’s marathon, traditionally held on the last day, is the climax and the highlight of the Summer Games.

This tradition, as well as the “compact Olympics” slogan behind Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Games, may have deterred a drastic change.

But marathons and race walking are not the only events that demand careful consideration about the health of athletes and spectators and the conditions for competition.

Organizers should review the entire operational plan with a willingness to make changes wherever necessary.

There will be some upsides to moving the marathons to Sapporo other than the expected health benefits.

In recent years, a growing number of top marathoners have avoided the Olympics, held in mid-summer, to prepare for autumn races offering prize money.

If such top-flight marathoners run in Sapporo, that will add a boost to the Olympics.

The IOC’s move has also highlighted another bigger issue.

The policy of holding the Summer Games between July and August is becoming increasingly harder to maintain.

Holding the Olympics during a season when the most popular sports in the United States and Europe are not held is designed to maximize the TV audience and the money collected from broadcasters.

This policy will keep producing similar problems.

The snafu over the Tokyo Games should inspire the IOC to start trying to map out a more sustainable future for the Olympics.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 18