The city of Sapporo has expressed its interest in bringing the Winter Olympics back to Japan’s northern island in 2026.
Now, the Hokkaido capital, and the Japanese Olympic Committee, will move forward with assessing the merit of a potential bid.
Sapporo will now enter a dialogue process, in which it will explore the benefits and opportunities of hosting the Olympics/Paralympics, while consulting with the JOC and International Olympic Committee before submitting its candidacy proposals at the end of March, 2018.
On Wednesday, Sapporo mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto and Hokkaido vice governor Yoshihiro Yamaya sat down with JOC president Tsunekazu Takeda and other JOC officials in Tokyo to officially inform them the city would enter the dialogue stage.
Last month, the IOC launched a new, streamlined procedure for choosing a feasible and cost-effective host city for the 2026 Winter Olympics/Paralympics.
The dialogue stage is non-committal, meaning interested cities do not have to submit formal proposals or presentations. Through the dialogue process, Sapporo will make a final decision on whether to proceed with the bid.
As the city enters the dialogue stage, Sapporo will have opportunities to have discussions with IOC experts and take part in the IOC’s observer program at the 2018 Peyongchang Winter Olympics. It will also draw up more elaborate hosting plans, including cost-cutting schemes, during the stage.
“We would like to receive advice from the IOC by participating in working sessions to polish our hosting plans,” Akimoto said at a news conference.
After the dialogue stage, the procedure will enter the candidature stage, where the selected cities will work more closely with the IOC to ensure the best possible delivery and legacy plans for the Olympics. The cities will be decided at the IOC board meeting next October and will be asked to turn in a single candidature file to the IOC in January, 2019.
The host city will be announced at the IOC session meeting in Milan, Italy, in September, 2019.
Pyeongchang, South Korea, is due to host the upcoming Winter Games in February. Beijing, China’s capital, will have the next Winter Olympics/Paralympics. So if Sapporo wins the bid, it would be the third straight Asian city to host the Winter Games.
Akimoto admitted he has heard concerns over the same region hosting consecutive Winter Olympics/Paralympics. He hinted the city could withdraw from the bidding process depending on what other cities in the world are also in the running and other considerations.
Takeda said it is difficult at this point for the JOC to predict what kind of bidding war it will be in 2019, yet added the 1972 Winter Games hosts are well qualified to stage the event again.
“The 1972 Olympics was a big success and I vividly remember that,” Takeda said. “And the legacy has been passed down by the citizens.”
Takeda added: “There are not many cities in the world that can host the Winter Olympics, in fact it’s decreasing. Sapporo has hosted the Winter Asian Games and it’s a great winter city. I am certain they would host a great Olympic Games.”
He said the JOC and Sapporo could raise their hands for the 2030 Winter Games if they determine there is little chance of winning the 2026 edition.
Sapporo was the first Japanese and Asian city to ever host the Winter Olympics in 1972 (the Winter Paralympics began in 1976). The city plans to reutilize the majority of the facilities used for the 1972 Games, it will renovate them, to reduce the costs, which could be between an estimated ¥432.8 billion and ¥456.5 billion according to the city’s hosting plans.
Among other cities that could run for the 2026 Games are Salt Lake City, Calgary, Sion, Switzerland and Lillehammer, Norway.
Stockholm and Innsbruck, Austria, recently decided against pursuing bids.
Yamaya said that Hokkaido would support the bid for Sapporo and hopes to make the island more of a “sports nation” with a boost from the Olympic movement.
The last Japanese host city was Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics/Paralympics.