The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) at its board meeting Wednesday gave approval for Sapporo to pursue a bid to host the 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The city that previously hosted the 1972 Games had already been in discussions with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during its dialogue phase of the bid process that kicked off in September.
The Japan Times reported JOC Vice President Eisuke Hiraoka said Sapporo was ready to declare a possible candidacy for the Games ahead of the March 31 IOC application deadline.
Japan’s Winter Games candidacy would be seen as a long shot with Tokyo already set to host the Summer Games in 2020 yet struggling with budgets and venues. With the 2018 Winter Games scheduled to open in PyeongChang, South Korea and the 2022 edition to be staged in Beijing – Sapporo would mark the third consecutive Winter Games in East Asia.
With the recent decline of bidders interested in hosting the Games, however, the IOC has indicated that geographical proximity is no longer a factor when siting the Games. Last month when IOC Executive Director Christophe Dubi confirmed that Sapporo had been engaged with the bid process, he dispelled concerns that the timing would not be ideal for Japan.
Though earlier this year IOC President Thomas Bach said that he would like to see the Winter Games next hosted at a more “traditional” location (read Europe or North America), Dubi explained that the lack of bidders meant the luxury of choice was no longer available when selecting a host city.
Currently, there are no cities with full assurances that they can cross the finish line when the IOC elects a winner September 2019 in Milan, Italy. Sion in Switzerland needs a government rubber-stamping and must face a daunting public referendum next June before moving forward and Calgary City Council must vote to fund the start of a bid committee next Monday or the Canadian project will be disbanded.
U.S. cities Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno-Tahoe are still weighing their options but are more focused on 2030 than 2026.
Other cities such as Telemark in Norway and Erzurum in Turkey have indicated interest but are far from the organization of a bid.
Innsbruck, Austria was knocked out of the competition last month after a referendum defeat.
The JOC could be trying to capitalize on a lightly contested bid race, or setting the stage for a run at 2030. In September the IOC awarded both the 2024 and 2028 Games to Paris and Los Angeles after the cities were the only two candidates remaining for the earlier edition, and there is widespread belief that the IOC could repeat the pattern for the Winter Games by allocating both 2026 and 2030.
The IOC Executive Board will recommend which cities will be invited to enter the final stage of the bid next October.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.