— Published 21 December 2022

Sapporo pauses for the 2030 Winter Games

The saga of the 2030 Winter Games bidding campaign has its share of surprises. For a long time soporific, it has now turned out to be quite exciting.

After Vancouver’s quasi-official withdrawal and an announcement by the IOC Executive Board that an awarding of the Olympic and Paralympic event would be postponed until 2024, the latest episode could reshuffle the cards. It directly concerns the supposed favourite for the final victory.

The Kyodo News agency reports that the Sapporo authorities and the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) held a press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday 20 December. They announced their mutually agreed decision to pause the 2030 Winter Games bidding campaign.

We must first dispel the public’s unease, rather than blindly rushing forward without considering the circumstances,” explained Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto.

A pause, therefore, but without the slightest certainty of continuing the adventure. During the same press conference, the two parties in charge of the project – Sapporo and the Japanese Olympic Committee – also announced their intention to launch a public consultation about the opportunity to remain in the race. In the current climate, which is being undermined by a judicial investigation into suspected corruption at the Tokyo 2020 Games, it would be surprising to see the Japanese public come out en masse in favour of the Olympic project.

According to several sources close to the matter, a new project should be finalised next spring, before an opinion poll is launched during summer months.

The Japanese decision may come as a surprise. It was not expected. But it is easily explained. The announcement by the IOC Executive Board of the postponement of the awarding of the 2030 Winter Games gives time and air, to announced or future candidates. The Sapporo 2030 team has taken this opportunity to slow down, if not stop altogether, to let the Tokyo Games case disappear from the news.

According to Kyodo News, the bid team would like to use this pause to change its approach and review its strategy. Seiko Hashimoto, the former president of the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, recently suggested that the Sapporo 2030 project should be reviewed, particularly in terms of budget.

As for the governor of Hokkaido prefecture, Naomichi Suzuki, he said last week that a bid could not continue under the current conditions. “We can’t go ahead unless we have thorough discussions and present countermeasures to gain public confidence,” he said. People are worried about effect the scandals could have on the bid. I want the truth to come out as soon as possible first.

Question: Will Sapporo 2030 survive a hiatus of several months? It’s hard to answer. But the Japanese run the risk of seeing the momentum of their bid interrupted without being able to restart. They also give arguments to the opponents of the Olympic Games, already revived by the revelations of the corruption scandal linked to the Tokyo 2020 Games.

In such a scenario, the IOC would find itself in the unenviable position of not being able to choose the 2030 Winter Games, with Salt Lake City alone in the running. A US bid that has never made a secret of its preference for the 2034 Games.