— Published 4 October 2023

Sapporo 2030 is still breathing

It was thought to be buried for good. Swept down to the depths by the corruption scandal surrounding the Tokyo 2020 Games. But Sapporo’s bid for the 2030 Winter Games is still breathing. It may even have the beginnings of a second wind.

According to NHK, the authorities in the capital of the Hokkaido prefecture are still working on the issue. But they have chosen to give it a more transparent, and above all more open, dimension, to avoid reliving the dark soap opera of the Tokyo 2020 post-Games period.

A new “management plan” for the Olympic project has been prepared by teams from the city of Sapporo. On Tuesday October 3, it was submitted to a panel of experts for review and approval. The process was followed on the same day by a press conference given by the Mayor of Sapporo, Akimoto Katsuhiro. Re-elected last April for a third term, he has never abandoned his Olympic project.

The new management plan unveiled this week does not revolutionise the genre. But it does propose an approach to organising the Games that breaks away from the Tokyo 2020 model, with a formula that is presumed to be less open to attempts at corruption.

At the top of the list of proposed changes is marketing. Sapporo 2030 suggests entrusting marketing to a handful of agencies, rather than a single agency as was the case for Tokyo 2020, where Dentsu acted as the interface between the organising committee and the partner companies. By expanding the number of players, Sapporo hopes to protect itself against the risk of bribes.

The new plan also provides for discussions between marketing providers and future sponsors to be overseen by the Organising Committee.

Another new feature is a tighter, less male-dominated management team. In its new version, the Sapporo 2030 dossier proposes halving the number of directors on the Organising Committee. It also suggests parity between men and women for management positions.

At this stage, the new management plan for the Japanese bid is in the hands of the panel of independent experts. The local authorities hope to finalise all the details by the end of October.

Akimoto Katsuhiro, the city’s mayor, confirmed this at a press conference: Sapporo 2030 aims to draw inspiration from Tokyo 2020 to propose a more virtuous and less opaque organisational model. Above all, he assured us that the project was still alive and kicking.

Can the Japanese get back into the race? It’s hard to say. But this week’s announcement suggests that they were probably never out of the running, despite their desire to put their project on hold for an extended period. Last spring, the IOC said it was in discussions with “six regions” interested in hosting the Winter Games. But without naming them, or specifying whether their interest was in the 2030 edition or one of the following editions. Sapporo is obviously on the list.

Against all the odds, the Sapporo authorities can count on public support, which is clearly on the up again. A poll carried out last June by Jiji Press revealed that 60% of Japanese – and 50% of residents of Hokkaido prefecture – were in favour of the bid for the 2030 Winter Games. Two months earlier, an opinion poll by the daily Asahi Shimbun showed only 38% support in the prefecture.

One unknown factor remains: the position of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC). Long closely associated with the project, it turned its back on it after the revelations of the Tokyo 2020 Games scandal. Its president, former judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita, made this clear at the end of June, on the evening of his re-election for a second term: “Under the current circumstances, securing the 2030 edition will be difficult.”