Hot water: Pressure to move Olympic open-water venue from Tokyo Bay

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By STEPHEN WADE and ANDREW DAMPF

The IOC moved next year’s Tokyo Olympic marathons and race walks out of the Japanese capital to avoid the stifling heat and humidity.

Now some swimmers and an 11,000-member coaching body are asking that something similar should be done with the distance-swimming venue in Tokyo Bay.

Known as Odaiba Marine Park, the water temperatures there were near danger levels in test events this summer for open-water swimming and triathlon. E. coli levels also plague the urban venue, and athletes have complained about the odors coming from the small inlet.

“Here’s the reality,” Catherine Kase, who coaches open water for the United States Olympic team, said in an email to the Associated Press. “If a marathoner faints or passes out, they may get a few bumps and bruises. If the same thing happens to an open-water swimmer, the result could be lethal.”

Tokyo’s heat again is the main problem.

Water temperatures in the venue this summer were very warm, climbing one day to 30.5 Celsius. That’s barely under the limit of 31 C set by swimming’s world governing body FINA. The temperatures were consistently in the 29 C-30 C range.

FINA rules specify that the race will be shortened or canceled if temperatures go over the limit.

FINA rules read: “All open-water swims’ alternative plans should be made in case environmental factors make the swim unsafe forcing it to be canceled or curtailed.”

Kase added. “We would like to push for a viable back-up plan. The straightforward answer is that we are not comfortable with the Odaiba venue.”

Kase noted that U.S. swimmers are advised against participating if temperatures exceed 29.45 C. She also said US swimmers can still choose to swim “and will likely feel pressure to do so” at big events like the Olympics.

“Our athletes shouldn’t have to worry about health concerns as they’re preparing to compete in the race of their lives,” Kase wrote.

The venue also has water quality issues including E. coli bacteria and problems with water transparency. Tokyo organizers say bacteria levels fall within “agreed limits,” on most days, though rainfall exacerbates the problem.

John Leonard, the executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, was even more emphatic about a move and placed much of the blame on FINA.

“We support a change in venue,” he said in an email to AP. “The ASCA position is always to err on the side of safety for the athletes. FINA talks about safety and then does the opposite and puts athletes in harm’s way.”

FINA and local organizers say there is no “B Plan.”

The International Olympic Committee promised last month there would be no more venue changes. It made this pledge after angering Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike, who strongly opposed moving the marathons out of Tokyo to the norther city of Sapporo.

The IOC said the decision was made, primarily to consider athletes who must run in the heat. But Koike’s allies characterized it as “an IOC-first decision, not an athletes-first decision.”

Cornel Marculescu, the executive director of FINA, spoke cautiously in an interview with AP.

Asked about the water temperatures at the venue, Marculescu replied: “I don’t want to comment,” he said, and suggested that elaborating could cause “problems.”

“This is what it is,” he added. “We check the quality of the water, we check the temperature all the time.”

Marculescu and local organizers say race times could to be moved up to very early in the morning, hoping to beat the heat. That was also an early strategy for the marathons and race walks before they were moved.

Athletes in outdoor water events at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics faced severe pollution in venues for rowing, sailing, canoeing, open-water swimming, and triathlon. But heat was not an issue.

“We are following up with a company there (in Japan),” Marculescu said, “like we have done in Rio – the same story – with an official government company. We are looking at water temperatures, the quality of the water and all these kinds of things.”

Water temperature was linked to the death of American swimmer Fran Crippen in 2010 at a distance swim in the United Arab Emirates. The autopsy concluded his death was from drowning, heat exhaustion, and included the possibility of a heart abnormality.

It was the first competitive death in FINA’s history, and much of the blame was aimed at the swim body.

The United States and Canada both withdrew their swimmers from an open-water race in October in Doha, Qatar. The race took place in the same body of water where Crippen died. Temperatures were again reported right at the FINA limit, and some reports said they were slightly above the limit.

In an email, the Canadian Olympic Committee did not address the water issue specifically but said “we remain confident that the organizing committee and the IOC will take every precaution to ensure that the games are held safely and successfully.”

Fernando Possenti, the open-water coach for the Brazilian Olympic team, said athletes need to deal with the environment and not waste time complaining about it.

“Program yourself, adapt your athletes to this kind of condition,” Possenti said in an email to AP. “This particular sport contemplates direct contact with nature and its variables. Heat and humidity are two of them.”

The Odaiba venue was picked partly because it offers picturesque 180-degree views of the skyscrapers that hug Tokyo Bay and the bridges that cross it.

Television has a powerful say in scheduling and venue location. About three-quarters of the IOC income is from broadcast rights. The American network NBC has agreed to pay $7.75 billion to broadcast the Summer and Winter Olympics from 2022 through 2032.

In Tokyo, to counter E. coli levels, organizers have installed underwater screens that work as a filter. E. coli was within agreed limits on all but one day in test events this summer.

But the screens also appeared to drive up water temperatures, and organizers plan to install triple screens for the Olympics.

In a statement, Tokyo spokesman Masa Takaya said “we will consider operating methods that can help suppress water temperatures, such as allowing the underwater screens to float, and opening them when the weather is good.”

 

Source :  japantoday.com/

South Korea calls for ban of ‘rising sun’ flag at 2020 Olympics

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South Korean Olympic officials have called on Japan to ban its “rising sun” flag at the 2020 Tokyo Games after claiming it represents a “militaristic and imperial past.”

Kim Bo-young, an official from the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, says the request was made to the Tokyo organizing committee during NOC meetings in the Japanese capital on Aug 20-22.

Tokyo organizers say they will not ban the flag, which portrays a red sun with 16 rays extending outward.

Organizers say “the rising sun flag is widely used in Japan; and it is not considered to be a political statement, so it is not viewed as a prohibited item.”

Many South Koreans see the flag as a symbol of Japan’s World War II aggression.

Relations between the two countries have soured recently over trade issues and threats to end a military intelligence sharing agreement.

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source :  Japan Today

Hiroshima marks 5th anniversary of deadly mudslides

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Hiroshima marked the fifth anniversary Tuesday of landslides that claimed 77 lives, with residents in the affected areas holding a memorial service for the victims.

The memorial was attended by the bereaved families and Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, among others.

Flowers were left in various places across the western city, including in Asakita and Asaminami wards, two areas hit hard by the August 2014 mudslides.

The governments of Hiroshima city and prefecture oversaw remembrance ceremonies until 2017 and residents have been organizing them since then.

At memorial monuments engraved with the names of victims, families offered prayers for the souls of their loved ones.

One such monument standing in Asaminami Ward in Hiroshima carries the names of a newly wedded couple, Minami Yuasa and her husband Yasuhiro, who were 28 and 29 respectively at the time of their death.

“Even after five years, I still feel lonely and think, if only we’d done this or that, they would have been saved,” said Minami’s father, Junji Wakamatsu, 56, as he offered flowers with his wife.

Minami had been pregnant at the time, so her parents also placed a photograph of their “grandchild,” a composite of the faces of their daughter and son-in-law, together with photos of the couple at the monument.

“I’m sure they are enjoying their days, free from pain and difficulty,” said Minami’s mother, Naomi, 57.

Measures by the national and prefectural governments to improve defenses against landslides, such as slope reinforcements and mudslide control dams, have been completed in 96 locations as of the end of July. Work is ongoing in three final areas.

The controls proved effective when torrential rains swept western Japan last year, with the dams able to prevent sediment inflow in Asaminami Ward while offsetting other risks.

In an effort spearheaded by the city, new evacuation routes are also currently being established.

“Every year we see the faces of those we lost and it brings back memories. I want to continue to protect the monuments and refresh my heart,” said Kazuo Zaihara, 71, head of one of the local neighborhood associations in Asaminami.

Bereaved families from the 2018 floods in western Japan also attended the ceremony in the ward. Fujiko Ueki, 46, who lost her 18-year-old son in Aki Ward in Hiroshima, said, “I interacted (with families) after the disaster, and we were able to share our feelings. I hope to continue the bonding between disaster-hit areas.”

In the early hours of Aug 20, 2014, localized torrential downpours caused a series of landslides in residential areas close to mountains near Hiroshima.

Around 400 houses were either washed away or damaged, with 74 people killed. An additional three people later died of causes deemed to be related to the disaster.

© KYODO

Source : Japan Today

Heat on agenda again at newly-built Tokyo 2020 hockey venue

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Two volunteers carry portable water mist sprayers to help fans cool off during a women’s hockey match between Japan and India at Oi Hockey Stadium, a venue for hockey at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, on Saturday.  Photo: AP/Jae C Hong

By Yoko Kono

After a week of Tokyo 2020 test events dominated by talks of sweltering heat and stifling humidity, it was hockey’s turn to experience it at the newly-built Oi Hockey Stadium on Saturday.

Hockey teams from countries including India and Australia are joining hosts Japan in a series of matches across four days to test out the facilities and gain some experience in dealing with Tokyo’s tricky summer climate.

Temperatures reached 37 degrees Celsius on Saturday but there were no reports of heat-stroke on the opening day.

The teams benefited from a range of heat countermeasures, including water mist sprays and large fans on the field and players moving inside and away from the sun during water breaks.

India defeated Japan 2-1 in the opening match on the main 2,600-seater pitch and for the Indian players, the hot conditions were nothing new and came with playing an outdoor sport.

“Oh yes, it was really rather hot,” said Indian women’s captain Rani Rampal. “I think every player was getting tired very quickly but in India we are used to this. In India it is really hot nowadays.

“Sometimes it is difficult, but this is sport, we can’t change it.”

Japan defender Shiori Oikawa, who played in the Netherlands, said the conditions could prove tricky for European teams next year.

“I have played in the Netherlands for three years, so this is completely different from European climate,” she said. “It is very difficult.”

Tokyo 2020 Governor Yuriko Koike officially opened the venue earlier in the morning at a ribbon cutting ceremony and praised the heat countermeasures in place.

“Today we used some mists, various ways of misting…we also have water hoses normally used for agriculture use for irrigation. So, we are trying varieties of ways of cooling,” she said.

“We will use the best methods at Tokyo 2020. To test those countermeasures, I think test events are very important.”

After the Olympics, the multi-purpose complex with continue to host hockey, soccer, lacrosse and American football events.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

Source : Japan Today

Powerful storm lashes parts of Japan; snarls holiday travel

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By Charly Triballeau

A powerful tropical storm lashed parts of Japan Thursday, bringing strong winds and torrential rain that prompted warnings of landslides and flooding, and sparked evacuation advisories and travel chaos at a peak holiday period.

Severe Tropical Storm Krosa — one notch below a typhoon — was churning slowly just off the southwestern coast of Japan, packing wind gusts of up to 160 kilometers per hour.

Authorities issued a voluntary evacuation advisory to around 550,000 people in the storm’s path and Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said four people had sustained minor injuries with one person more seriously hurt.

The agency also said that a party of 18 people including children got stranded during a barbecue in a valley when the river rose rapidly. They have since been evacuated to higher ground and should be rescued later Thursday.

Krosa also sparked travel chaos as people returned to major cities following the Obon holiday.

More than 600 domestic flights were cancelled to and from cities in western Japan and bullet train services were either scrapped or sharply reduced.

Ferries connecting the southern Shikoku island and other parts of Japan were also cancelled as high waves lashed the coast.

Krosa weakened significantly from earlier in the week as it stalled in the Pacific Ocean but it boasts an unusually large eye, meaning it is likely to dump rain over a wide area.

It is also moving very slowly — 20 kilometers per hour — so the rain is expected to last for an extended period.

© 2019 AFP

Source : Japan Today

South Korea to remove Japan from preferred trade list

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South Korean Trade Minister Sung Yun-mo speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Sejong, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. South Korea says it has decided to remove Japan from a list of nations receiving preferential treatment in trade in what was seen as a retaliatory move to Tokyo’s recent decision to downgrade Seoul’s trade status. (Jin Sung-chul/Yonhap via AP)  Photo: Jin Sung-chul/Yonhap via AP

By KIM TONG-HYUNG

South Korea said Monday that it has decided to remove Japan from a list of nations receiving preferential treatment in trade in what was seen as a tit-for-tat move following Tokyo’s recent decision to downgrade Seoul’s trade status amid a diplomatic row.

It wasn’t immediately clear how South Korea’s tightened export controls would impact bilateral trade. Seoul said some South Korean companies exporting to Japan will be able to receive exceptions from case-by-case inspections that are normally applied on sensitive shipments to nations with lower trade status and go through the same fast-track approval process that they currently enjoy.

Japan provided similar exceptions while removing South Korea as a favored trade partner, which eased some of the fears in Seoul about a possible blow to its export-dependent economy, where many manufacturers heavily rely on parts and materials imported from Japan.

After spending weeks berating Tokyo for allegedly weaponizing trade and vowing retaliation, South Korean President Moon Jae-in struck a more conciliatory tone on Monday, saying that his government will refrain from “emotional” reactions to Japan over the trade dispute.

“While maintaining unwavering resolve and calmness, we need a long-term approach to look for fundamental countermeasures,” Moon said in a meeting with senior aides.

South Korea’s trade minister, Sung Yun-mo, said Seoul decided to remove Japan from a 29-member “white list” of countries that enjoy minimum restrictions in trade because it has failed to uphold international principles while managing its export controls on sensitive materials. Sung and other South Korean officials did not specify what they saw as Tokyo’s problems in export controls.

South Korea currently divides its trade partners into two groups while managing the exports of sensitive materials that can be used both for civilian and military purposes. Seoul will create a new in-between bracket where it plans to place only Japan, which “in principle” will receive the same treatment as the non-favored nations in what’s now the second group, Sung said.

South Korea’s government currently requires companies to go through case-by-case approvals to export sensitive items to non-favored nations, which typically take 15 days. However, Seoul also plans to grant exceptions to South Korean companies exporting to Japanese partners under long-term deals and allow them to continue using a fast-track approval process that takes about five days.

South Korean officials didn’t clearly explain why they created a special bracket for Japan instead of grouping it with other non-favored nations. They said Seoul will work to minimize negative impact on South Korean exporters and bilateral trade.

Sung said the changes are expected to enter effect sometime in September, following a 20-day period for gathering public opinion on the issue and further regulatory and legal reviews. He said Seoul is willing to accept any request by Tokyo for consultation over the issue during the opinion-gathering period, but officials didn’t say whether Seoul’s decision will be negotiable.

South Korea’s announcement came weeks after Japan’s Cabinet approved the removal from South Korea from a list of countries with preferential trade status, citing an erosion of trust and unspecified security concerns surrounding Seoul’s export controls.

Seoul says Tokyo is using trade to retaliate over South Korean court rulings that called for Japanese companies to compensate aging South Korean plaintiffs for forced labor during World War II and plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

Japan’s move came weeks after it imposed stricter controls on certain technology exports to South Korean companies that rely on Japanese materials to produce semiconductors and displays for TVs and smartphones, which are key South Korean export items.

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source : Japan Today

TEPCO toughens stance toward nuclear disaster damages settlement

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Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc (TEPCO) has become significantly more reluctant since last year to accept a government body’s recommendations for a settlement of damages claims by people affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, government officials and lawyers involved said.

The company’s tougher posture in negotiating out-of-court compensation settlements could force those affected to resort to lengthy and costly legal actions.

Lawyers representing residents of Fukushima say some have given up on taking their claims to court due to legal costs, after TEPCO rejected the body’s settlement proposals.

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the government established the dispute resolution body to broker settlements between TEPCO and people seeking compensation.

Three nuclear reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered meltdowns, contaminating wide areas of Fukushima Prefecture. According to the government, more than 31,000 people who evacuated from their homes in Fukushima are still living outside the prefecture.

In the process, called alternative dispute resolution, the body proposes settlement terms based on government guidelines regarding the types of damages and costs eligible for compensation.

TEPCO said in 2014 it would respect the body’s reconciliation proposals even though the company is under no legal obligation to do so.

In 2018, the body terminated 49 settlement proposals due to TEPCO’s refusal to accept them, including nine cases brought by employees of the power company and their relatives, its officials said. The cases involved at least 19,000 residents near the plant, they said.

The number was a significant increase from 61 in the four years through 2017. All of those during the four-year period were cases in which TEPCO employees or their family members sought compensation.

In many of the rejected cases, TEPCO refused to pay damages because the company saw the recommended compensation as unjustifiable under the government guidelines, the officials said.

The officials said the body decided to discontinue the resolution processes partly to encourage residents to consider legal action.

One of the lawyers representing Fukushima residents said, “TEPCO may be concerned that uniformly compensating residents according to settlement proposals would lead to a revision of the government guidelines to its disadvantage.”

© KYODO

 

Source : Japan Today