Municipalities outside Tokyo vie to host Olympics events

Since the Tokyo metropolitan government announced it would change part of the plans for facilities where the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics events will be held, several nearby prefectures have launched bids to host Games-related events at their local facilities. Some have already started preparations, promoting their ability to meet the requirements with fully-fledged facilities and convenient transportation. However, as a significant change of plans after Tokyo's successful hosting bid could diminish the city's international credibility, the metropolitan government and the Olympic organising committee have shown a cautious welcome.

Disaster-hit areas interested

Hirofumi Fujinuma, 67, the president of the Iwate Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, submitted to the Iwate prefectural government and Hanamaki city office a written request on July 7, asking for cooperation in holding the clay and rifle shooting events at the city's firing range. "We want to work together to host the shooting events to give hope and courage to people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake," he said.

According to Tokyo's original plan, the shooting events are set to be held at a temporary facility to be built at a cost of 4.4 billion yen (S$53.5 million) at the Ground Self-Defence Force's Asaka Training Area that occupies land in Tokyo's Nerima Ward and cities in Saitama Prefecture. However, some people involved with the sport said the facility should be designed to be usable afterward as an Olympic memorial site. The shooting association in Iwate Prefecture then made a bid to host the event at the firing range in Hanamaki.

The range has been under renovation for a national athletic meet scheduled for 2016 in Iwate Prefecture. The 2020 Games are based on the concept that the Olympics will be the ultimate compact event with 85 per cent of venues concentrated within a radius of eight kilometers from a planned site for the athletes village. While the distance to the range in Hanamaki can be seen as a disadvantage, the site is located near a station on the Tohoku Shinkansen line as well as expressway entrances and exits. The shooting association has been asking airlines to restart a route between Hanamaki and Haneda airports that ceased operation about 30 years ago.

Local communities also have their hopes riding on the bid. Kanji Yoshida, the president of the Morioka Merchants' Association, said, "The event can draw people from around the world, and the area hit by the 2011 disaster will be remembered even six years from now." The association plans to submit a written request that the sports event be held in Hanamaki to the Olympic organising committee.

A fraction of the cost

Some metropolitan areas have been active in their bids to host Olympic events. The Saitamaken Rowing Association plans to ask the organising committee to utilize Saiko, a balancing reservoir at the Arakawa riverbed in Toda, Saitama Prefecture, as a venue for the boat and canoe-kayak events.

The officially planned venue, the Sea Forest Waterway, is scheduled to be built at Tokyo Bay's central breakwater landfill site. However, the construction cost is now expected to swell to about 100 billion yen, approximately 15 times the initial plan. Though the metropolitan government plans to reduce the cost by reviewing the construction method, the rowing association's director Taku Wada, 69, said: "If Saiko is utilized, the construction will only involve a little drilling. The cost would be less than 10 per cent of building the Sea Forest Waterway." He listed the advantages of the site, saying it was the best place as it is only 20 kilometers from the athletes village and is served by well-developed roads and railway systems.

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the canoe sprint was held at Lake Sagami in Kanagawa Prefecture. At a press conference on June 30, Mayor Toshio Kayama said he planned to ask Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe to use the lake as the venue for the canoe event. In June, a new section of the Metropolitan Intercity Expressway opened near the lake. Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa also supported the bid, saying, "I want to maximise cooperation [with the city of Sagami] by making the best use of a previous venue for the Tokyo Olympics."

Distance an issue

Meanwhile, the metropolitan government and the Olympic organising committee still maintain a cautious stance. According to the International Olympic Committee's regulations, if a venue is more than 50 kilometers from the athletes village in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, a new village will have to be set up. While the regulation applies to the city of Hanamaki and Lake Sagami, a senior official of the Tokyo government said, "A new village cannot be built outside Tokyo using taxes collected from Tokyo residents." The idea of establishing separate athletes villages could run counter to the metropolitan government's announced policy of reviewing the plans to reduce swelling costs.

As a change of venues also requires reconsideration of security and transportation plans, a person involved in the organising committee said, "It is actually very difficult to change venues for the events, but we will consider the possibilities from various perspectives."