Review of Sapporo Games: It’s Time to Reconsider Significance of Hosting Olympics

What should a sports festival that upholds the spirit of peace be like? This is an opportunity to rethink the meaning of holding the Olympics and Paralympics in Japan.

Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto and Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), who have sought to host the Winter Games in the city, decided on Oct. 11 to abandon their bid for the 2030 event.

Akimoto said, “Understanding of the citizens has not spread sufficiently,” making it clear that he plans to look into the possibility of hosting the 2034 Winter Games and beyond.

In the 2021 Tokyo Games, a bribery case occurred in which a former executive board member of the organizing committee for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, who had also worked for a major advertising company, allegedly took bribes of nearly ¥200 million from sponsor companies. In addition, bid-rigging cases were also uncovered.

In response to these incidents, the Sapporo municipal government announced measures to prevent a recurrence, including the establishment of a system of having multiple advertising firms in charge of collecting sponsors, among other roles, instead of a single firm. Even so, the city judged it difficult to boost momentum for its bid to host the Games.

The citizens of Sapporo were greatly disappointed at the fact that the world’s largest sporting event had become a breeding ground for interests. The city and the JOC should accept the gravity of this fact and take the opportunity to reconsider how the Games should be.

The city planned to keep down construction costs through such measures as renovating existing facilities for competition venues. It estimated the total costs of the Games at up to ¥317 billion by using private-sector funds such as sponsorship income for operating expenses.

However, the costs of hosting the Tokyo Games were double the provisional calculation at the bidding stage, exceeding ¥1.4 trillion. Personnel and material costs have been soaring, and there is a possibility that costs will also increase for the Sapporo Games.

Even before the spate of incidents came to light, there was strong concern about the costs among Sapporo residents. Now is the time to break away from “commercial Olympics,” which attract large sums of money from the private sector, and instead seek low-cost, attractive plans.

For the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics, railroads and roads were constructed and buildings were built one after another. However, is it appropriate in this day and age to use a bid for a future Games as a catalyst for regional economic development?

Although the city has proclaimed the “creation of an inclusive society” and “the utilization of renewable energy,” among other goals, it is difficult to see the connection of these slogans with Sapporo, and it is hard to say that the philosophy has permeated the city.

Hokkaido is blessed with high-quality natural snow and attracts skiers from around the world. One idea would be to take advantage of this point to emphasize the message of preventing global warming.

Will Sapporo be able to create an image of the Games unique to the city and persuasively demonstrate the effectiveness of its bid? Without these, it will be difficult to win the support of its citizens.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 12, 2023)