— Published 6 April 2023

For the 2030 Winter Games, the right cards have changed hands

Things can change very quickly in the Olympic movement. A year ago, the Japanese city of Sapporo was leading the meager parade of candidates for the 2030 Winter Games. Hit hard by the Tokyo 2020 corruption scandal, the project was put on hold last December. The results of a recent survey conducted in the capital of the Hokkaido prefecture suggest that it may never see the light of day again.

Conducted by telephone earlier this month for the daily Asahi Shimbun, the opinion poll found that 47% of Sapporo residents are now opposed to an Olympic bid. Nearly one out of two people surveyed are opposed. In the opposite camp, only 38% are in favor.

Another lesson to be learned from the survey, carried out among a sample of nearly 800 people: the Olympic question should play an important, even major, role in the next municipal elections in Sapporo. The election is scheduled for Sunday, April 9.

The incumbent mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, is running for a third consecutive term. He is a fervent supporter of the Winter Games bid and has never hidden it, suggesting on several occasions, before the corruption scandal of the Tokyo Games, that it would not be necessary to go through a referendum, as the polls are all in favor of the project.

The only problem, but a big one: the Olympic idea has seen its supporters melt like ice in recent months. And Katsuhiro Akimoto is facing competition for the mayor’s office from two other candidates, Kaoru Takano and Hideo Kibata, both clearly hostile to a bid.

According to the opinion survey published by the Asahi Shimbun, more than half (56%) of the respondents explain that the position of the candidates on the Sapporo 2030 issue will influence their vote. Katsuhiro Akimoto will have to play it close to the vest, even sacrificing his Olympic project to keep his seat.

More worryingly, nearly eight out of ten residents (79%) believe that a referendum should be held to approve the Winter Games bid. In such a scenario, it seems unlikely today that the yes side will win.

The Sapporo 2030 project forgotten? At the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), the official discourse continues to claim that the file is not buried, only put on pause. But months go by. And the machine is still not restarted.

With a plan B – Salt Lake City – clearly more cut for the 2034 edition, the attribution of the Winter Games 2030 is taking a totally unforeseeable turn only a few months back.

Sweden came out of the woodwork first, at the beginning of the year, bringing out of the closets its project for the Winter Games in 2026, where the Stockholm/Are binomial had been preceded by the Italians of Milan-Cortina. Since then, the Swedes have been working. The IOC granted them time by announcing to postpone to the session of Paris, in July 2024, the attribution of the Olympic and Paralympic appointment. They take advantage of it.

Above all, Switzerland has slipped a foot in the door. Its national Olympic committee, Swiss Olympic, announced last week that it had asked the IOC to move its name up a notch on the list of candidates. Until then, it had been confined to an “informal dialogue” with the future host commission, but now it has moved to an “ongoing dialogue“. In other words, it has abandoned its dead-end exchanges to begin serious discussions.

For a country where a cruel succession of failures in the candidatures, and the still terrifying prospect of a “vote” on the Olympic question, impose an extreme prudence, the nuance is not insignificant. Switzerland starts to dream again about the Games. It tells itself above all that the current desert of the campaign for the 2030 edition opens a boulevard to him and offers him a historical chance.

In Lausanne, at the IOC headquarters, many people see the future through the same prism.