Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto and Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) President Tsunekazu Takeda met today to exchange information on whether the city will continue its bid for the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games or turn its attention to the 2030 edition.
Sapporo City officials insisted last week that no final decision has been made on whether they bid for 2026 or 2030, but they did admit that local opinion polls indicated that they should focus on the latter attempt.
It followed extensive reports in Japan that Sapporo has told the JOC that they intend to focus on 2030 and withdraw from the earlier contest.
Akimoto and Takeda, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), remained vague about the bid in the aftermath of today’s meeting in Tokyo.
"In the meeting, we did not discuss dropping our bid for 2026 and shifting it to 2030," Akimoto told reporters.
"But we exchanged information including the schedule of the city's planning programme to decide whether we will continue our bid for 2026 or change it for 2030."
Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, had been welcomed into the unofficial dialogue stage of the 2026 race as a type of "insurance policy" in case more volatile bids from Europe and North America fall short.
IOC President Thomas Bach expressed hope last year that the Winter Games will return to a "traditional" location in 2026, but it was made clear afterwards that this included Sapporo, as a former host.
Many other IOC members have urged against Sapporo, which also hosted last year's Asian Winter Games, though, to avoid a run of three successive East Asian Winter Olympics after Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022.
It is likely that a new high speed railway, due to reach Sapporo by 2030, is another influential factor in pushing for a four-year wait.
"In order to host the Olympic Games, I think the most ideal situation is to coordinate with city planning," Takeda said.
"I think having the bullet trains and finishing the city planning by the time of hosting the Olympic Games is a very important factor to have successful Olympics.
"That is no guarantee of a successful bid for 2030, but I can say that having that kind of infrastructure will be a strong advantage for them if they decide to bid for 2030."
Akimoto said Sapporo's urban development is unlikely to be fully ready by 2026.
"By 2030 they will be ready to a degree, so we are currently discussing whether to go forward with our bid for the 2026 Games along with the possibility of looking instead at 2030," he added.
With the United States and Norway set to target 2030, JOC figures may have concluded that 2026 may be an easier contest to win.
Sion in Switzerland and Calgary in Canada are likely to face referendums, while Stockholm in Sweden and an Italian bid from Milan, Turin and Cortina d'Ampezzo are still not guaranteed political support.
That leaves Erzurum in Turkey, which is currently considered a rank outsider, and Graz in Austria, the country where a referendum for a 2026 bid in Innsbruck has already failed.
The IOC are due to vote on official candidates at an IOC Session in Buenos Aires in October before a host is chosen in September 2019.