Sapporo 2030 Olympic bid referendum ruled out by city assembly

Sapporo’s city assembly ruled out any possibility of holding a public referendum over its 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bid when it voted against the proposal Monday.

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, could host Alpine events at 2030 Olympic Winter Games (Niseko Resort Photo)

The motion had been tabled last week by the Japanese Communist Party in the capital of Hokkaido prefecture but the majority Liberal Democratic party with strong support for the bid promised to push back against holding a public vote.  Opponents of the referendum pointed to polls taken in March showing only 39 percent were against pursuing a second edition of the Games that was last hosted in the city in 1972.

The poll taken by mail and in person showed between 52 and 65 percent support, depending on the methodology, and was taken shortly after the conclusion of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics where Japan won 3 gold of a total 18 medals and placed 12th on the table.

The decision will certainly boost Sapporo’s chances of being awarded the Winter Games, a project budgeted to cost between ¥280 billion to ¥300 billion (USD$2.4 billion to USD$2.6 billion).  A technical team from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) visited proposed venues across northern Japan last week after similar trips to were made to bid rivals Salt Lake City and Vancouver.

With public support polling over 80 percent, Salt Lake City does not plan to hold a referendum while a lone Vancouver City Councilor had her motion for a plebiscite ignored when no seconder was found.  A public vote over the Canadian bid has not been completely ruled out as a new motion could be tabled once bid plans are approved by First Nations leaders behind the project.

A bid proposed for Barcelona and the Pyrenees in Spain remains in hiatus after joint partners failed to agree on venue allocation.  Accordingly, a planned referendum for July 24 has been postponed.

Majority support Sapporo 2030 Winter Olympics bid according to new preliminary poll

Over the past decade most bids that faced public referendums failed to receive the required support, and were forced to abandon the project.  Three bids in each of the 2022 and 2026 bid races were defeated by public votes, leaving only two cities at the end of both contests.  Under new bidding rules, the IOC encourages referendums to be held in regions where they are required.

Meanwhile, a Sapporo Olympic bid opposition group has formed and is planning a public demonstration next Sunday (June 12) to protest the costs of hosting the major event.  Having lost the target of holding a referendum, the group now hopes to put an end to the bid entirely.

Last month the IOC revealed a possible timeline where preferred candidates to host future Games would be named by the Executive Board by December 7 this year, and winners could be named as early as the IOC Session in Mumbai, India on May 30, 2023.  This would include the 2030 host, but the IOC has not ruled out the possibility of a 2034 host region also being named.

The next Winter Games will be staged across northern Italy by Milan-Cortina 2026.

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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