- OLYMPICS & PARALYMPICS
Sapporo’s Prospects Murky for Hosting Future Winter Games; Scandals Related to Tokyo Games Fueling Residents’ Distrust in Efforts to Host Winter Olympics in 2034 or After
17:43 JST, October 7, 2023
SAPPORO — Sapporo has decided to withdraw its bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the outlook is uncertain for the city’s efforts to host the Games in 2034 or later.
Sapporo’s decision was mainly prompted by its inability to dispel the public’s distrust over hosting the games in the wake of the corruption and bid-rigging scandals surrounding the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The Tokyo Games were delayed by the pandemic and eventually held in 2021.
Although Sapporo must reorganize its bidding campaign for the Games, there is no clear path to regaining local support. The city also faces strong rivals for the 2034 Games.
“At this point, we cannot say that we are gaining that understanding [from the public],” Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto told reporters Friday morning. He did not specifically refer to changes in the city’s bidding policy but said he would meet with Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, on Wednesday to discuss future bidding efforts.
The timing of the Friday announcement was apparently prompted by Sapporo’s apprehension that the 2030 host city candidates could be narrowed down at the executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee scheduled to be held in Mumbai from Thursday.
Sapporo wanted to avoid becoming a “failed bidder,” which would further undermine the city’s image, according to a person involved in the bidding campaign.
Strong concerns are believed to have emerged more than a year ago about the prospects for the city’s bid for the 2030 Games. The IOC attaches great importance to the support of local residents when selecting a host city, and public opinion was increasingly against Sapporo’s hosting after the cost of the Tokyo Games swelled.
Pandemic-related restrictions on the lives of residents also contributed to the negative feelings.
A questionnaire mailed to Sapporo residents in March last year found that only 52% of respondents were in favor of hosting the Winter Games. This was aggravated by the corruption and bid-rigging scandals surrounding the Tokyo Games.
Sapporo suspended a campaign to garner wider support at the end of the last year, instead emphasizing measures to prevent a recurrence of similar problems.
Akimoto secured his third term in the mayoral election in April, but one of his rivals, who opposed hosting the Winter Games, received more votes than expected. This led Akimoto to hint at the possibility of bidding for the 2034 Games.
Akimoto has not yet decided on when to survey residents before making a decision on the bid, something he pledged to do in his mayoral campaign.
“It was already well known that hosting the 2030 Games would be difficult. I’m not surprised [by the decision not to seek to host the 2030 Games],” said a senior member of a local business group. It was widely felt that it would be better to host the Games in 2034, by which time the extension of the Hokkaido Shinkansen line to Sapporo would be completed. Work on the extension has been delayed.
This is the second time that Sapporo has postponed the year it wants to host the Winter Games. In 2014, Sapporo announced its intention to bid for the 2026 Games but it later switched to 2030 as it prioritized reconstruction efforts in wake of the major earthquake that struck the Iburi region of Hokkaido.
A senior city official said the decision reflected Sapporo’s determination not to give up on hosting the Winter Games in the future. But questions remain whether the public will accept the repeated postponements.
The support of local residents is essential for a bid to host the Olympics and Paralympics, on which a large amount of public money is spent.
Efforts are being made to use the impact of the Games to help address social issues such as poverty and discrimination, in addition to increasing transparency in the operation of the Games. The organizing committee for the Paris Olympics and Paralympics to be held next year aims to support impoverished areas, eliminate lack of exercise among the public, and promote United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through the Games.
The committee has pledged to the public that it will leave behind an intangible legacy that will have a positive impact on the awareness and lifestyles of the public.
What legacy can Sapporo leave behind? The city must reexamine the meaning of hosting the Games and devise a plan that will win the public’s support.
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