A cold surprise in Sapporo’s bid to host the 2023 Olympics

Sapporo is the favorite to organize the 2030 Winter Games, but its candidacy, already criticized by part of Japanese public opinion, could be weighed down by suspicions of corruption linked to the Tokyo Olympics.

In August, Haruyuki Takahashi, a former member of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, was arrested. He was indicted on new corruption charges last week as part of an ongoing investigation.

The scandal falls badly for Sapporo, which actually organized the Winter Olympics in 1972, competing with Vancouver in Canada and Salt Lake City in the United States.

The president of the Japan Olympic Committee, Yasuhiro Yamashita, canceled his scheduled visit to Lausanne in mid-September to discuss this candidacy with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), citing a schedule issue.

Katsuhiro Akimoto, the mayor of Sapporo, who was also due to be on the trip, said the cancellation “has nothing to do with the corruption issue at the Tokyo Olympics.”

But the cancellation made headlines across Japan as investigators continue to conduct searches.

Caught the opposition

Opposition to gaming, already strong in Japan in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been fueled by these corruption scandals implicating prominent figures in business and politics.

daily Asahi Shimbun Sapporo, in her editorial, called for her candidacy to be “stopped” until the corruption investigations were resolved. The same newspaper had called for the cancellation of the Tokyo Games last year, two months before its launch.

However, experts believe these discoveries will not have a lasting impact on Sapporo’s status as a favourite. With cities showing themselves more reluctant to spend fortunes to host the Games, the IOC cannot be too careful in its selection to host the 2030 Games.

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Very good application

“If Sapporo advances, it is technically a very good offer,” said Michael Payne, IOC marketing director between 1989 and 2004, who played a key role in the Games’ financial transformation thanks to the partnership with sponsors. “I think it is primarily a domestic political issue,” he added.

For Andrew Zimbalist, an expert in mathematical economics, the scandal “will continue to be a problem in Japan,” but it will “fade into international memory.” According to him, Japanese officials will “simply admit to the IOC that they have bad actors and they will clean up.”

Zimbali still believes that changes to the qualifying process will help Sapporo be less in the spotlight than it was Tokyo.

Indeed, previously, cities had to spend fortunes to present their candidacy and competition before electing a winner.

The process is now taking place out of the public eye, and there is flexibility in both the number of applicants and the date of choosing the host city. The only deadline is confirmation, which will take place in September or October 2023 during the IOC session in Mumbai, India.

“The IOC does not want to find itself in a situation where the host country does not have a stable government, a strong economy and reliable weather,” Zimbalist said. “Sapporo has many assets that will weigh more than the distant memory of this scandal.”

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