Sapporo Mayor cancels 2030 Olympic bid visit to IOC amid Tokyo 2020 bribery scandal

Recent allegations of bribery against members of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizing committee and its partners are positioning Japan’s Sapporo 2030 Olympic Winter Games bid on thin ice.

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)

On Monday local reports revealed Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto canceled a planned September visit to International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland intended to support the bid by the Hokkaido region capital. The Mayor was to meet with IOC President Thomas Bach to review plans for the proposed Games.

Japan’s Jiji Press reported that a Sapporo municipal government source claimed the visit was canceled due to rising opposition to the bid in the city that has been piqued by the recent Tokyo bribery scandals.

Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) president Yasuhiro Yamashita blamed the cancelation on scheduling logistics when he explained to reporters that he would no longer accompany the Mayor to Lausanne.

“We’ve decided to cancel this time due to scheduling (conflicts),” he said.

Akimoto also denied the rumors claiming “[the cancelation] has nothing to do with the bribery case surrounding the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.”

The Mayor intended to travel to Switzerland immediately following his scheduled visit mid-September to Munich to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sister city proclamation between the Japanese and German cities. That trip is still on, according to sources.

Informal surveys conducted in Hokkaido in March revealed that 57 to 65 percent support the bid, depending on the demographic asked, and 26 percent oppose the return of the Games. Interest in the bid has since soured, according to various reports.

Last month a Tokyo 2020 official and the chair of partner Aoki Holdings were arrested 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.

Sapporo had been considered the reliable front runner in the 2030 Winter Games race with rivals Salt Lake City in the United States and Vancouver in Canada facing local hurdles. A Spanish bid from Barcelona and the Pyrenees was abandoned earlier this year when joint partners reached a stalemate on venue allocation negotiations.

Salt Lake City is a strong prospect for the IOC but has a domestic conflict with the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games being held only 18 months earlier that may force organizers to target the 2034 Winter edition instead. The Vancouver bid, planned to be hosted by First Nations across the province of British Columbia, has yet to receive approval from the provincial and federal governments or the go-ahead by the indigenous leadership. The project could also face a plebiscite in the City of Vancouver that will be holding municipal elections in October.

Earlier this year IOC President Bach said the IOC could narrow down a list of preferred candidates when the Executive Board meets in early December, with the intention of electing the host city during a Session set for Mumbai, India at the end of May. IOC bid rules introduced in 2019 encourage any required referendums, or guarantees of public support be put in place before a bid is named as a candidate in order to reduce the embarrassment (to both the bid and the IOC) of projects dropping out late in the race – a scenario that played out often in the past decade.

The IOC has not committed to the December short list date and there is no official timetable in place. Under bidding rules, interested parties remain in an ongoing dialogue phase until the Future Host Commission finds a suitable candidate.

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 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.