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Saturday, Nov 23, 2019

Tokyo 2020 faces the challenge of rising heat

Heat is turning into a major headache for the organisers as it has killed at least 57 people across Japan between July 29 and August 4,

other-sports Updated: Aug 09, 2019 23:29 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Olympics Rings displayed near the New National Stadium in Tokyo.
Olympics Rings displayed near the New National Stadium in Tokyo.(AP)

A worker died at a Tokyo Olympics construction site on Thursday, taking the number of fatalities in the buildup to the 2020 Summer Games to at least three since 2017.

While the one death was reported as “suicide due to overwork” by the local labour office, and the other one was an accident, Thursday’s incident is being blamed on the heatwave that has gripped the Olympic hosts, say media reports. There was no official confirmation on the cause of the construction worker’s death.

Whether or not the latest case can be attributed to the soaring temperatures, which have killed at least 57 people across Japan between July 29 and August 4, heat is turning into a major headache for the organisers.

Rising temperature

The July 24-August 9 Olympics are being held in months in which the Japanese capital reaches its highest temperatures.

In the last 10 years, the monthly mean daily maximum temperature in Tokyo for July has gone below 30 degree Celsius only twice (in 2009 and 2016), according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In August, the mean maximum temperature has gone up above 33°C on a number of occassions. The relative humidity in these two months hover around 80 per cent.

Japan’s temperature has seen a rise over the years, with 2018 witnessing its highest ever temperature of 41.1 degree Celsius in Kumagaya, Saitama, just north of Tokyo. Eight other places recorded temperatures between 40.5°C-41°C, making it one of the hottest years in the history of the country.

2019 has been no better. This year the thermometer read 39.5°C in Saroma, Hokkaido on May 26—the hottest May temperature ever recorded in Japan.

Growing concerns

Heat often plays a big part in deciding the schedule of mega sports events in Asia. The last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics (in 1964) it was held between October 10 and 24, when it is much cooler.

Even the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be held between November 21 and December 18, the first time in the history of the tournament, which is usually held in June-July.

The 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi was held in October while generally the event is mostly scheduled in July or August.

However, a shift away from traditional dates for mega sports events is never easy to accomplish, and usually faces stiff opposition from broadcasters and sponsors.

No cool runnings

It is the athlete who has to bear the brunt of the heat.Rising global temperatures have had an effect on many sports in recent years. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil saw three minute cooling-breaks for the first time in football World Cups.

An ‘Extreme heat policy’ was implemented at the 2018 US Open in tennis, while in July that same year, the Indian cricket team had to shorten a practice match due to the persisting heat wave in England.

The Tokyo Olympics organisers have already taken note of this—the start timings of the men’s and women’s marathons have been pushed to 6:00 am as a precautionary measure. Some other outdoor events may see changes in timing too, so as not to coincide with the hottest time of the day.

For the spectators, there are plans to build shaded rest areas, mist sprays, as well as provide ice packs.

The Japanese Olympic contingent, which is aiming to achieve a good haul of medals, are working with the heat in mind too. A sports meteorology team at Weathernews Inc. is helping athletes in at least 10 disciplines, including the marathon, race walking, triathlon and sailing, to understand and tackle heatwave conditions better.

But before the actual action begins, the focus needs to be on construction workers getting the venues ready.

“Today we instructed all construction companies under contract to Tokyo 2020 to ensure they properly implement and manage all appropriate health and safety measures at their workplaces. At the construction sites, the contractors have set up rest rooms equipped with air-conditioning and provided water coolers, ice makers, salt candy and other items,” the organisers said in a statement.