SAPPORO - While it is not certain Japan will even bid for the 2026 Olympics, Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto said his city is ready to host its second winter games, provided it can avoid the problems that have plagued Tokyo in the lead-up to the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Last week, Sapporo staged the Asian Winter Games for the third time, and by most accounts it was a success, bringing in more athletes, coaches and officials than the city’s landmark 1972 Olympics.
Akimoto recently told Kyodo News about the decision to host the games that wrapped up on Sunday and the event’s meaning for his city.
“Frankly speaking, six years ago, when asked by the Japanese Olympic Committee to host this event, the Asian Games had already been held twice in Sapporo,” Akimoto said. “Bidding for the Olympics and Paralympics is one thing, but some people, including those in the city council, wondered about holding yet another Asian Games.
“In the end, it has proven to be a good decision. The image of the 1972 Sapporo Olympics remains strong among our citizens. Then, 1,655 athletes, coaches and officials from 35 countries took part.
“In these Asian Games, there are 32 participating countries — including Oceania NOCs — and more than 2,000 athletes, coaches and officials. It has become an event exceeding the size of the Sapporo Olympics. It was a surprise to everyone at first that this . . . would be bigger than our Olympics.”
The city proved an ideal Asian Games host from the standpoint of the Olympic Council of Asia, which seeks sustainable growth for the continent’s sports. Other than a few upgrades to facilities built for 1972, Sapporo came ready-made to host, and OCA members believe it could be a strong candidate for 2026 despite the 2018 and 2022 Winter Games already being slated for east Asia.
IOC member Ng Ser Miang of Singapore told Kyodo News on Feb. 19 that three straight winter games in Asia should not be problematic, since Europe used to host almost every one. OCA president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, however, said the potential success of a bid would depend on what other cities put forward proposals to host.
The mayor’s stance on a bid remains cautious. He said he believes continental balance would be a factor weighing against his city’s chances.
But since the IOC has not asked for bids yet, talk of Sapporo 2026 so far is just talk, Akimoto says.
“The IOC has not posted its bid schedule for 2026. Once it is published, the JOC will have to decide whether Japan will bid, and then will ask for candidates,” Akimoto said. “At that point, we will raise our hand. Last November, we presented a summary plan for hosting 2026 to the JOC, but it has gone no further since then.”
But the timing could not be better according to Akimoto, who sees a city in need of an infrastructure upgrade for the future, one that would match the one that came with the Sapporo Olympics.
“It’s been 45 years since the 1972 Games. The city of Sapporo has prospered from subways, expressways and infrastructure built at that time. But we’re now at a point where our venues will require remodeling before too long. The rebuilding of the city’s center, buildings and hotels is going forward.
“After 50 years, we’ve come to the point that a lot of structures need to be replaced. We are now in an era where social infrastructure, including sports venues and buildings, need to be rebuilt for the next 50 years. To set a goal of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics, the speed of that renewal will accelerate. And because the Paralympics are part of the package, universal design and a barrier-free vision will be incorporated into that.”
Another advantage of improved infrastructure would see Sapporo maintain its status as Asia’s premier winter sports and winter training hub, a mantel South Korea is eager for next year’s Olympics host, Pyeongchang, to claim. Still, the spectacular growth of the Asian Winter Games, that began here in 1986 with seven nations, suggests that there is room for several winter sport centers in Asia.
The mayor admitted, however, that Sapporo hosting another Olympics is not the slam dunk it might have been a few years ago.
“About three years ago, a poll showed nearly 70 percent support for an Olympic bid,” Akimoto said. “But with the various budget issues troubling the Tokyo Games, things like overspending on Olympics and murky dealings have thrown cold water on that. There are substantial numbers of citizens who are concerned about how much it would cost.”
“Tokyo might be labeled an example of how not to do things, and the things that are now going on there are something we can reflect on and learn from. We have to diligently go through the process of full disclosure of spending, so expenses can be estimated as closely as possible. In our summary proposal to the JOC, we made rough estimates of facility costs, basically using existing facilities and only constructing temporary ones from scratch.”