Media Mix, Dec. 18, 2021

Next year is the 50th anniversary of the Sapporo Olympics

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about Sapporo’s bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics. As pointed out in the column, the Japanese press doesn’t sense a lot of enthusiasm for the bid among Sapporo residents and thinks it may have something to do with latent feelings about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Moreover, the Olympics has become less of a big deal as far as the average global citizen is concerned over the past decade or so. It’s difficult to gauge how much enthusiasm will return once the pandemic has faded, and in that regard the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics will be not only a huge challenge but a kind of indicator as to the future of the Games. A week or so ago, the main issue was the diplomatic boycott that many countries had announced in response to China’s poor human rights record. Japan’s joining this boycott has been relatively tentative: no cabinet members, including the prime minister, will attend, but there’s been no formal announcement yet to clarify why they aren’t going. In the past week, however, the point has become almost moot, since the swift spread of the omicron variant has caused so many countries to tighten their borders. It seems fairly certain the Games will happen in February but attendance will likely be quite limited.

Sapporo, if it’s approved, wouldn’t be until 2030, which sounds like plenty of time for people to make the adjustment, but as Tokyo 2020 proved, too much heartbreak can happen in the meantime. That’s why the IOC has been pushing up its decisions on future host cities. Hosting isn’t quite as attractive as it used to be, mainly owing to the runaway costs that always seem to attend preparations for the Games. Sapporo has already said it will not build any new facilities for 2030, but instead renovate venues used for the 1972 Winter Olympics. They’ve even put forward a plan to use land owned by the central government for the athletes village. The 30,000 square meter plot is currently being used by the Hokkaido Development Bureau, which plans to move its operations to a different location in the city in 2026. Afterwards, the city’s housing authority would build city-owned rental apartments on the land provided that the bid is successful, since they would build the units as an athletes village that would later be turned into apartments. If the bid is not approved, the housing plan is cancelled.

And there is another infrastructure scheme that’s uncertain. The Hokkaido Shinkansen is eventually supposed to extend to Sapporo, though as it stands it won’t be finished by the time the Olympics takes place. The business magazine President predicted last summer that if the bid goes through, the shinkansen authorities might try to push up the completion date so that it will be ready by the Winter Olympics, which would be difficult since it’s has already been delayed due to difficulties related to tunnel construction. But given that the line, which currently terminates at Hakodate, hasn’t seen much use so far and likely won’t see any more even after it’s extended to Sapporo (flights to Sapporo from Tokyo are much more convenient than the train, especially in the winter), nobody seems to cares. 

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