IOC President cancels “Thank You” Tokyo trip amid corruption scandal, further tainting Sapporo 2030 Winter Olympics bid

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has opted not to travel to Tokyo this month to attend a celebration marking the first anniversary of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. His decision comes as both the IOC and Japanese sports officials are grappling with a growing scandal surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games held last year.

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses members at the 139th IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland May 20, 2022 (IOC Photo)

IOC President Thomas Bach addresses members at the 139th IOC Session in Lausanne, Switzerland May 20, 2022 (IOC Photo)

The ‘Thank You Tokyo! Festival and Commemorative Ceremony’ organized by the IOC will be held at Japan’s National Stadium October 16, but Bach will not be among guests on hand to honour those who made the Games possible.

In a statement to GamesBids.com, the IOC blamed the travel cancelation on timing.

“Unfortunately, the IOC President Thomas Bach will not be able to attend those important events in person, due to scheduling reasons,” the spokesperson wrote.

“The IOC will be represented by the IOC Members in Japan, Mr WATANABE Morinari, Mr YAMASHITA Yasuhiro and Mr OTA Yuki.”

According to a report by Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun that cited inside sources, the cancelation will also impact a meeting that was being considered between Bach and Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto to discuss the 2030 Olympic bid by the Hokkaido capital. Those plans will need to be rescheduled.

Plans last month for Mayor Akimoto to travel to IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland to meet with Bach were also canceled on short notice with the blame being placed on “scheduling” conflicts.

But local reports, referring to sources close to the matter, said the September cancelation was due to the rising Tokyo 2020 corruption scandal that has been grabbing headlines in Japan and internationally.

In the past weeks a Tokyo 2020 official has been arrested multiple times for allegedly arranging bribes for preferred treatment during the sponsorship selection process while the Games were being organized. Others officials from the organizing committee and corporate partners are under investigation in the growing scandal, with more arrests expected. All allegations have been denied.

Akimoto denied that the cancelation was due to the scandal claiming “it has nothing to do with the bribery case surrounding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”

The IOC backed up this claim, explaining that the Mayor changed plans due to a scheduling conflict.

Bach attended the State Funeral of assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe September 27 in Tokyo. Abe was a key figure in Tokyo’s bid to host the Games and was a strong supporter throughout the organization of the event.

Sapporo remains the likely favorite in its bid to host the city’s second Olympic Winter Games in 2030. A Canadian bid from the Vancouver region still seeks government approvals before it can proceed and a project from Salt Lake City in the United States has shifted its focus to 2034 in order to distance it from the already scheduled Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games.

Japan’s bid may be the only option remaining when the IOC Executive Board names a preferred candidate as early as December or possibly next Spring.

Over the past decade most interested bidders eventually dropped out of races for the 2022 and 2026 Winter Games leaving the IOC with limited choices. These challenges forced the IOC to reform the bidding process in 2019, creating a relationship-building dialogue to replace the head-to-head battle royale style election.

Managing the delicate relationship between the Olympic Movement and the Japanese population will be paramount in the IOC’s plans to site the 2030 Games. A recent survey in Japan revealed that 55 percent support hosting the Winter Olympics in Sapporo in 2030 while only 38 percent were opposed to the plan. Local reports claim support is souring as the corruption scandal lingers.

“The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were an overwhelming success, despite unprecedented challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The Games brought the world together at a time when it was needed the most, and created a strong legacy for their hosts,” the IOC statement to GamesBids.com said.

“The IOC and the Olympic Movement at large remain forever grateful to the people of Tokyo and Japan for making Tokyo 2020 a success.”

The final election of the 2030 Winter Games host will be held in September or October 2023.

The next Winter Games will be staged in Northern Italy by Milan-Cortina 2026.

About Robert Livingstone


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.