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Games-time disaster prevention is top priority-Tokyo governor

Japan's former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe checks his earphone as he prepares for an interview at his office in Tokyo February 9, 2014. R
Japan's former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe checks his earphone as he prepares for an interview at his office in Tokyo February 9, 2014. R

By Karolos Grohmann

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe's worst nightmare is a catastrophe hitting the city during the 2020 Summer Games and disaster prevention and mitigation tops his Olympic to-do list.

Speaking to Reuters a day after the end of the Sochi Winter Games, Masuzoe, elected this month, said he had had to travel to Russia to assure the International Olympic Committee he was fully committed to Olympic preparations after his predecessor resigned over a financial scandal.

"There are so many challenges but my highest priority is the possibility of a disaster," Masuzoe said in an interview.

"The worst thing that one can think of is a disaster right in the middle of the Games. So, for me, disaster prevention and disaster mitigation plans are very important."

With the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 following an earthquake and tsunami still affecting his country, Masuzoe said work had started on an Olympics protection plan.

"We have already begun so as to have the perfect disaster prevention and mitigation plan," said the 65-year-old, who has 30-year-old ties with former Prime Minister and head of the Tokyo Games, Yoshiro Mori.

The IOC always presses for seamless cooperation between Games organizers and all levels of government in the host nation, and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 is an example of where this relationship has been difficult.

IOC president Thomas Bach had to travel to Brazil before the Sochi Olympics to help iron out problems after preparations lagged behind schedule.

Masuzoe's predecessor Naoki Inose, who was key to the bid that landed the Games in September by beating Istanbul and Madrid, resigned in December over a financial contribution.

"I met with IOC president Thomas Bach. His concern was he had to identify what kind of person I was - who is this new guy, this new governor," Masuzoe said.

"We met, we talked in German at least half of the time and I think the worry he had must have been dispelled," said the politician, who has studied in France and Germany.

Masuzoe said growth in Japan's economy would help pay for the Olympics, which are returning to the city that hosted the Games in 1964.

"The health of the Japanese economy is important," he said. "We have come out of the recession and this economic growth is very important and as governor I want to sustain this momentum."

Switching comfortably between French, German and English, he looks to be more at ease in the international world of sports politics than Inose, who caused a stir with comments about Muslims before the IOC vote on the 2020 Games.

"For any politician, outspoken or not, it is delivery that is important. Outcome is everything. If you cannot produce results, you are disqualified," said Masuzoe.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Robert Woodward)

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