Japan to support Sapporo Winter Olympics bid for 2034 or later, and drop plans for 2030

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has reportedly decided to approve a Sapporo Olympic and Paralympic Games bid for 2034 or beyond if the Hokkaido capital wishes to move forward, and plans to host in 2030 will be abandoned due to dropping public support.

Niseko Ski Resort, About 100 km from Sapporo, could host Alpine events at 2030 Olympic Winter Games (Niseko Resort Photo)
Niseko Ski Resort, About 100 km from Sapporo, was proposed to host Alpine events at 2030 Olympic Winter Games (Niseko Resort Photo)

The decision was made at a JOC board meeting Tuesday according to Kyodo News, and officials said they would also consider other Japanese cities that might come forward with interest to stage the Games.

The news was not unexpected after such plans were first tabled earlier this year amid the widening corruption scandal surrounding the organization of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The JOC hit the brakes just hours after pro-Olympic candidate Katsuhiro Akimoto was elected Mayor of Sapporo.

JOC board member Keiko Momii said “a public survey shows 60 percent of people opposing it.”

“We should take more time and try to gain understanding from the public. Therefore, we opened things up for various possibilities.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires regions vying to host the Games to organize a referendum if required under local law or if there is any doubt about public support for the project. The IOC also commissions polls to gather the same information.

Sapporo initially bid to host the 2026 Games but the city withdrew after the devastating Hokkaido earthquake in 2018, leaving a clear path for Italy’s Milan-Cortina to get the nod over Stockholm Åre in a Session vote. The Japanese city then became the perceived frontrunner for the 2030 Games until Dentsu Group officials were indicted on bid-rigging charges related to Tokyo 2020, grabbing international headlines and embarrassing Japan and the IOC.

Last December Sapporo officials hit the pause button on the bid after polls revealed that public support had plummeted, and they claimed they would take some time to reevaluate the situation.

The new target could put the Japanese city in a head-to-head battle against Salt Lake City in the United States where officials say they are confident they will get the nod to host in 2034. U.S. officials have said they would step in and serve the Olympic Movement if no other city is found to stage in 2030, but it is unclear how they will feel about yielding to Sapporo due to a scandal.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) have said that hosting in 2034 is preferred as it would leave a larger gap following the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games, allowing both events to be more financially lucrative.

There remains only tepid interest from regions considering bids for the 2030 Games. Both Sweden and Switzerland have begun exploring potential projects and are in discussions with the IOC.

Vancouver and Barcelona stepped back from 2030 bids last year due to political issues. The IOC claims more than six regions are considering future Winter bid opportunities, and that number is thought to include those regions that have ended active bids.

The IOC had intended to announce a shortlist of candidates last December but instead postponed the race in order to study climate change and its impacts on prospective Winter Games hosts. The Future Host Commission is considering the selection of a pool of permanent regions to host in a rotation, and could elect both the 2030 and 2034 hosts simultaneously as early as 2024.

The IOC has targeted a meeting scheduled in Mumbai, India on October 15-17 to announce a preferred host or hosts for 2030, and to ask members to approve any alternate plans including the possible double allocation. That short timeline could be a significant hurdle should Japan consider organizing for 2034.

Japan has previously hosted the Winter Games in Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of 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.

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