— Published 14 June 2023

Sapporo 2030, a project frozen in ice

The race for the 2030 Winter Games has lost a new competitor. It had already been at a standstill for several months. But its chances of re-entering the fray now seem slim to none.

According to Kyodo News, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has decided to support Sapporo’s bid to host the Winter Games in 2034 and beyond, provided the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture abandons its Olympic dreams for 2030.

The JOC’s decision was taken on Tuesday June 13 at a meeting of its board of directors in Tokyo. It does not officially bury the Sapporo 2030 project. But the message is clear: the Japanese governing body no longer wishes to support a bid for the 2030 Winter Games in the current climate, which is clouded by the corruption scandal surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Keiko Momii, a member of the National Olympic Committee’s board of directors, put it bluntly: “The latest public survey shows that 60% of people are opposed to Sapporo’s 2030 bid. We should give ourselves more time and try to win back the public’s trust. That’s why we’ve decided to open the discussion to different options.”

At the top of the list was a postponement of the Sapporo 2030 project to the following edition, or even to the Winter Games in 2038. But as the JOC hinted at the end of its meeting on Tuesday June 13, the capital of Hokkaido prefecture could no longer be the only Japanese city with its eye on the Olympic and Paralympic event. The door is now open for other projects, either in preparation or only in the embryonic stage.

Put on hold last December for an “indefinite period“, the Sapporo project had lost its favorite status since the first revelations about a corruption scandal at the Tokyo 2020 Games. But it still seemed to be breathing, especially after the re-election of the city’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, one of the bid’s strongest allies.

Now, the Japanese Olympic Committee’s announcement has forced him to rethink his timetable. It is impossible for an Olympic bid to pursue dialogue with the IOC without the endorsement and support of its National Olympic Committee.

With Sapporo now out of the running, the battle for the 2030 Winter Games looks more uncertain than ever. Admittedly, the IOC is in talks with half a dozen cities and regions. But enthusiasm remains very muted. And the names of potential candidates are slow to emerge.

In the absence of Sapporo, Salt Lake City may already have clinched the title. The capital of Utah is the last survivor of an early campaign deserted by the Canadians from Vancouver and the Spanish from Barcelona and the Pyrenees. But the Americans have never made any secret of their preference for the 2034 edition, even if they continue to maintain a highly diplomatic stance, claiming that they would be prepared to accept the Games in 2030 to “do the Olympic movement a favor.”

In such a desert, the Swedes appear to be in the best position. After losing out to Italy’s Milan-Cortina for the 2026 Winter Games, they had put their ambitions on hold. Then they realized that the opportunity offered by the race for the 2030 edition would probably never present itself again. But their plans are still rather vague.

Switzerland followed the same line of reasoning, before announcing that it too had entered into dialogue with the IOC. Its chances are real. But the National Olympic Committee, Swiss Olympic, remains very cautious. It has yet to reveal which city, or cities, have been chosen to host the project. In any case, it will have to go through a referendum.

According to its new timetable, the IOC should not award the 2030 Winter Games before the session organized in Paris in July 2024, in conjunction with the next Summer Games. Before that, it could announce a city invited to continue the “privileged dialogue” at its next session, scheduled for October 2023 in Mumbai, India. Provided, however, that one has been found.