Sapporo’s host city bid clouded by Tokyo Games scandal

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The fate of Japanese city Sapporo’s bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics has been overshadowed by a bribery scandal related to the Summer Games in Tokyo last year.

Now that the International Olympic Committee’s general meeting to pick the 2030 host city was postponed to autumn next year from the initially scheduled May and June, it is important for Sapporo to gain domestic support ahead of next spring when candidate sites are likely to be narrowed down to one.

Sapporo, the prefectural capital of Hokkaido, northernmost Japan, has been seen as the front-runner in the host city race that also involves Salt Lake City and Vancouver. Salt Lake City now prefers to host the 2034 Games, while the British Columbia government last week said that it does not support Vancouver’s bid.

“I think Sapporo remains the most prospective candidate, but the issue of the Tokyo Games needs to be cleared up,” Japanese IOC member Morinari Watanabe said.

He said, “It will be impossible (for Sapporo to host the 2030 Games) unless the fundamental distrust is dispelled, no matter how much promotion is done.”

Watanabe said that Sapporo needs to quickly present measures to be taken when it is chosen as the host city after problems related to the Tokyo Games are sorted out.

In the corruption scandal, Haruyuki Takahashi, a former executive of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic organizing committee and a towering figure in the country’s sports business circle, has been accused of receiving bribes from companies in return for giving them favors in relation to the Games.

Sapporo and the Japanese Olympic Committee have said they would discuss ways to ensure transparency and fairness in hosting the Games, but their responses lack a sense of speed.

Watanabe, a retail industry veteran, said Sapporo needs to come up with concrete and convincing measures to prevent corruption.

“Using shoplifting as an example, installing surveillance cameras and watchmen are preventive measures,” he said. There is no point in saying that there is no more shoplifting without such measures, he said.

When Tokyo was bidding to host the Games, it said the power of sports would bring hope to northeastern Japan areas hit hard by the March 2011 disaster. In comparison, many said that Sapporo has not delivered persuasive messages about the philosophy and the significance of hosting the Games in the city.

“I’ve felt that there was no impact in what were sent from Sapporo,” said Yuko Arakida, who served as vice president of the Tokyo Games organizing committee just prior to the events.

Given the situation where the trust in the Olympics has not been restored, she said: “I think we need to have the courage to stop once. Leaving the dream to 2034 is one option.”