— Published 11 April 2023

For the Winter Games, Sapporo turns to 2034

Who would have thought it? After two successive editions in Asia – PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022 -, the Winter Games could offer a prolonged stay in Europe. In Italy for 2026, it is acquired. Then in another country of the continent in 2030, as the trend suggests.

Yasuhiro Yamashita (photo above, with Thomas Bach), the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), confided it on Monday, April 10: the project of candidature of Sapporo for the Winter Games, put in pause at the end of last year, could soon start again. But by forgetting the edition 2030 to concentrate on the following one, foreseen in 2034.

Anything but a coincidence, the declaration of the former heavyweight judoka, Olympic champion in all categories at the Los Angeles Games in 1984, came the day after the municipal elections in Sapporo. The outgoing mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, won with 56% of the votes. He won a third consecutive term of office against two openly anti-Olympic opponents. But his victory will not be enough to relaunch illico a candidacy of which the opinion, in its majority, does not want to hear any more about.

An exit poll revealed that more than half of Sapporo’s voters (53%) said they were opposed to the Olympic project. In the opposite camp, they are only 27% to show themselves in favor of a return of the Winter Games in the prefecture of Hokkaido, almost sixty years after the 1972 edition.

Katsuhiro Akimoto knows it. In his first speech of winner, the mayor of Sapporo evoked the Olympic question. But he did so with caution. “We will present our plan to host a clean Games in Sapporo to the citizens again, he said to his supporters. And we will continue the discussion. We would like to move forward, but we will have to get the support of the citizens.

The discussion will continue. That’s a certainty. But Yasuhiro Yamashita’s words open the door to postponing the project for the next edition. “The election clearly showed that many local residents are worried and anxious, acknowledged the JOC president, as quoted by Kyodo News. It is difficult to go ahead with the initial plan without people understanding and accepting the project. We have to do things carefully. Otherwise, we won’t be able to continue.

Yasuhiro Yamashita, also an IOC member, explained on Monday, April 10: the discussions will resume very soon between the JOC and the city of Sapporo. But the option of a postponement to the 2034 edition will be studied. It could even quickly be considered as a priority.

In such a scenario, the IOC might have to review its plans. It would have to integrate a new candidate, Sapporo, to a race for which it already thought it had a sure winner, and ideal in its eyes: Salt Lake City. The battle between the Americans and the Japanese, scheduled for 2030, would be moved to 2034. But this time, the Utah project would be the favorite.

With Sapporo looking further ahead, the race for the Winter Games in 2030 could then be reduced to a strictly European affair. Sweden has taken the first position, timidly but without hiding. Switzerland has also announced its intention to intensify the dialogue with the IOC.

To date, the declared candidates are not more numerous. Only two, the vital minimum. And nothing suggests that their number could increase in the months to come, even in case of a formal decision by Sapporo to pass its turn while waiting for the next game.