Athletics

Top doctor sounds alarm over heatstroke at Tokyo 2020

Christian Coleman (Getty Images)
Christian Coleman (Getty Images)

Tokyo - One of Japan's top doctors has slammed the decision to hold the Olympics at the height of Tokyo's baking summer, warning that heatstroke will be the "biggest risk" during the Games.

In an interview with AFP, Kimiyuki Nagashima, executive board member of the Japan Medical Association, also sounded the alarm that the Olympics will stretch the country's doctors at a time when local families are most at risk from the heat.

And it's not just the heat: Nagashima cautioned against the risk of communicable diseases as people fly in from around the world and gather en masse. Measles is thought to be a particular risk as many Japanese are not adequately vaccinated as children.

"My personal opinion as an individual is that sporting events should be held in a comfortable environment. I don't think it is agreeable to hold it at an inappropriate period at an inappropriate location due to business and economic concerns," he said.

The sweaty Tokyo summer is "generally speaking not a suitable place" for outdoor sports and for their spectators, added the doctor, an orthopaedic surgeon who oversees the association's sports medicine activities. 

In the city's bidding document to win the Games, Tokyo said the competition period between July 24 and August 9, followed by Paralympic Games, "provides an ideal climate for athletes to perform at their best" with "many days of mild and sunny weather."

However, last summer, nearly 93 000 people sought emergency care across Japan, with 159 of them dying. Most of these cases took place during the time the summer Olympics will take place.

"From the start, we have seen heatstroke as the biggest risk factor for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as far as health goes," Nagashima said.

Humidity 'extremely high'

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October to avoid the heat of the summer and the issue has quickly become the major headache for organisers, who have otherwise won praise for their preparations.

Organisers have brought forward the start time for several events including the marathon and rolled out a variety of anti-heat measures including artificial snow.

However, recent test events did little to cool fears, with a French triathlete treated for heatstroke and several spectators taken ill at a rowing trial.

Many test events took place under conditions regarded as "dangerous" for exercise, according to the internationally accepted WBGT index that measures heat and humidity.

Nagashima said he had urged organisers to think beyond the Games and be "fully considerate" that medical emergencies during the competition will divert resources away from locals at a critical time.

"Japan's heat is not just about the high temperature. Humidity is extremely high... This means a higher risk of getting sick than in other countries," he said.

But given that Japan is determined to host the event, the nation must prepare itself and offer visitors advice to stay healthy, the doctor said.

"There are steps you can take to avoid heatstroke. Please learn about heatstroke. Take preventative measures. Then please come to Japan and enjoy the Olympics in comfort," he said.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What is your favourite sport to watch on TV?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Rugby
41% - 11437 votes
Cricket
12% - 3302 votes
Football
19% - 5158 votes
Athletics
3% - 693 votes
Boxing
1% - 269 votes
Cycling
2% - 642 votes
Golf
5% - 1413 votes
Motorsport
8% - 2338 votes
Tennis
3% - 926 votes
Water sports
1% - 247 votes
American sports
1% - 336 votes
MMA / WWE / UFC
3% - 902 votes
Vote