By Andrew Both
TOKYO (Reuters) – A well-known Japanese politician has called on Olympic chief Thomas Bach to move the Tokyo 2020 golf tournaments to somewhere cooler, saying keeping them in their planned location would be irresponsible because of the heat.
The stifling heat of the Tokyo summer has already prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to insist organisers move next year’s marathon and race walking events to the cooler northern island of Hokkaido.
Shigefumi Matsuzawa, a member of Japan’s House of Councillors, has now written to IOC President Bach outlining his concerns about Kasumigaseki Golf Club, which is located inland in Saitama Prefecture, about 50km northwest of central Tokyo.
“The issue of measures against extremely hot weather is an especially serious problem,” Matsuzawa wrote in an Oct. 25 letter obtained by Reuters.
“In 2017, a research team from Tokyo Metropolitan University published a paper … with observation results indicating that Kawagoe City in Saitama Prefecture, where Kasumigaseki is located, is the hottest place in Japan.
“The period between late July and early August is the hottest period in Japan’s summer, and so it is no exaggeration to say that forcibly holding an outdoor sporting event in the hottest region of Japan at this time is extremely irresponsible.”
The IOC’s decision to insist on the marathon and walk events being moved north has infuriated the governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike, who said the capital city had invested a lot of time and money into preparing anti-heat measures.
When contacted on Thursday, Tokyo 2020 organisers were unable to immediately offer comment on the letter.
Matsuzawa said his concern was not only for the golfers but for volunteers and spectators without clubhouse access who, he wrote, would have nowhere to escape the heat and humidity.
The average temperature over the past three years during the scheduled competition dates — July 30 to Aug. 2 for men and Aug. 5 to 8 for women — had been 31.7 degrees Celsius (89F), he wrote.
Extrapolating from past figures, Matsuzawa estimated that up to 1,250 people could suffer from heat stroke during the eight days of the golf competition.
“Ambulances and hospitals will be unable to cope and with heat stroke patients collapsing one after the other, the possibility of fatalities occurring cannot be ruled out,” he added.
Matsuzawa, who was governor of Kanagawa Prefecture from 2003-2011, recommended moving the golf to Wakasu Golf Links adjacent to Tokyo Bay, where temperatures at that time of year are on average four degrees Celsius cooler than Kasumigaseki.
Alternatively, he wrote, the central mountain regions of Hakone and Nagano, or even Hokkaido, would also be suitable.
This is not the first controversy involving the Kasumigaseki Golf Club.
The club scrapped its male-only membership in March 2017 after the IOC stated it would find another venue if the policy remained in place. The club said in May 2018 that it had granted three women full memberships.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played a round of golf at the club in Nov. 2017.
(Additional reporting by Jack Tarrant and Elaine Lies, editing by Nick Mulvenney and Peter Rutherford)