TOKYO, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Japan’s Sapporo announced plans to host the 2026 Winter Olympics on Thursday, despite doubts about whether the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) would put forward a bid.
The Mayor of Sapporo, the first Japanese city to host the Winter Games in 1972, told a city assembly meeting that local residents, and those in Japan’s surrounding most northern island prefecture Hokkaido, were behind the 404.5 billion yen ($3.44 billion) bid.
“Hosting the Olympic Games will lead Sapporo to a new stage and be a step forward to create the future of Hokkaido,” Fumio Ueda was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.
“An atmosphere to proceed to the dream (of hosting the Olympics) is being nurtured among citizens.”
Last month, the Sapporo city government revealed 66.7 percent of residents were either “in favour” or “fairly in favour” of the bid, Kyodo said, adding that the Sapporo Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also requested the mayor to bid.
The JOC will decide in 2016 whether or not to bid for the Games with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announcing the hosts in 2019.
Kyodo speculated that Japanese doubts about bidding were down to the number of Olympic events Asia are lined up to host in the coming years, believing it would be difficult to convince the IOC to return to the region if other continents bid.
South Korea’s Pyeongchang will host the 2018 Winter Games before Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics. Kazakhstan’s Almaty and China’s Beijing are the only two bidders remaining for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Four European bids dropped out of the 2022 running over cost concerns and IOC President Thomas Bach reacted earlier this month by revealing plans to make bidding cheaper, easier and more attractive for future potential hosts.
That move is expected to lead to bids from North America and Europe for the 2026 Games. (1 US dollar = 117.5000 Japanese yen) (Writing by Patrick Johnston, editing by Nick Mulvenney)