You can understand Sapporo’s enthusiasm for hosting a second winter Olympics
Young-Sook Lee
Young-Sook Lee is director of JTA Pacific. Prior to JTA, she served as the executive advisor to Tokyo 2020 Bid Committee and Japan Olympic Committee.
Sapporo to host another winter Olympics?
13th April 2017, 11:31

The city of Sapporo is considering a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympic Games again, having hosted the Asian Winter Games in February this year, 45 years after it staged the winter Olympics in 1972.

But after PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022 (not to mention Tokyo 2020), is the timing right? Will the IOC award three consecutive winter Olympics to Asia?

I was there in February for the Asian Games, and I loved it: great people, lots to do, great organisation and great infrastructure. You can understand their enthusiasm to host a second winter Olympics: the city seems perfect for the job.

First, there’s snow – lots of it. Snow fell on six out of eight days during the Asian Winter Games. On average, there’s snow on 130 days a year, and the annual snowfall is 600cm. Sapporo is considered the second snowiest city in the world after Aomori, another city in Japan, according to Accuweather.

Will the IOC award three consecutive winter Olympics to Asia?

Compare that with PyeongChang, which gets an annual average snowfall of 250cm, and with Yangqing and Zhangkialou, the two snow sports locations for the 2022 Beijing winter Olympics, which record an average of just 5cm and 21cm annual snowfall, respectively.

Second, Sapporo is a mountainous city with a wide range of snow sports competition venues within a 75-minute drive of the city centre.

These include: Sapporo Teine, a popular ski resort that was the venue for the men’s and women’s slalom and giant slalom during the Asian Winter Games, and hosted slalom, giant slalom, luge and bobsleigh events at the 1972 winter Olympics; Shirahatayama Open Stadium, the first FIS-certified cross-country skiing course in Asia; two ski jumping venues, Miyanomori Ski Jump Stadium and Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, both also used at the 1972 winter Olympics; and Sapporo Bankei Ski area, the venue for snowboard halfpipe and freestyle skiing mogul and dual mogul events.

It would be easy to get to three or more competitions in a day during a winter Olympic Games in Sapporo.

On average, there’s snow on 130 days a year, and the annual snowfall is 600cm

The city also has a range of existing skating rinks and gymnasia, including the Makomanai Indoor Skating Rink, Nishioka Biathlon Stadium, Tsukisamu Gymnasium and Mikaho Gymnasium, all legacies from the 1972 Winter Games. There’s also the Hoshioki Ice Skating Rink, used all-year-round for ice hockey and figure skating, and the Sapporo Curling stadium which regularly offers curling lessons and has also been used for competitions such as the 2013 Japan Curling Championship.

Clearly, some of these venues would need to be refurbished to accommodate a future winter Olympics, but it’s likely that Sapporo could organize the games without building any new venues for most competitions - unlike the Sochi or PyeongChang games.

One major venue that is missing, however, is a sliding centre. City officials told me that they plan to observe Agenda 2020 (the IOC’s reform programme which aims to reduce the cost of hosting the games), and use the 1998 Nagano winter Olympic Games sliding site. Indeed, they would even consider using PyeongChang’s sliding venue, they said.

In fact, one reason for bidding to host the winter Olympics sooner rather than later, they explained, was the need to address the future use of Nagano’s sliding site, which is under threat of being dismantled in 2020 to avoid the cost of maintaining it. 

It would be easy to get to three or more competitions in a day during a winter Olympic Games in Sapporo

Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido prefecture, is the fifth-largest city of Japan, with a population of 2 million. It’s relatively compact and easy to navigate, with an effective public transport network that includes three subway lines, a tram line and many bus companies’ routes. It was evident during the Asian Winter Games that Sapporo is used to heavy snowfall – no closure of schools, no disruption of the public transport system.

The city provides visitors with plenty of other activities as well: shopping, night life and great restaurants. Moreover, people from Sapporo are known for their friendliness, and the city’s tag line is ‘Sapporo Smile’. It’s clear why the city attracts 13 million tourists from Japan and abroad every year.

Yet, the barriers to Sapporo hosting the winter Olympics in 2026 remain formidable. It’s not even clear that the Japanese Olympic Committee would nominate and support a Japanese city for the 2026 Olympic Games before hosting the Tokyo 2020 games (the 2026 host city is due to be selected by the IOC in 2019).

Sapporo could face competition in a bidding race for 2026 from Calgary in Canada, Sion in Switzerland, Innsbruck in Austria and Stockholm in Sweden, and if they stay in the race it seems likely that the 2026 games will be awarded to a continent other than Asia.

But in the present climate, about the only thing you can say for certain of the IOC’s candidature process is that nothing is certain – and the city of Sapporo seems eager to start the process of bidding with the aim of getting the games, if not in 2026, then in 2030.