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SALT LAKE CITY — More than two-thirds of Sapporo residents oppose the Japanese city's now-paused bid for the 2030 Winter Olympic Games, according to a new poll by a regional newspaper.
The Hokkaido Shimbun reported Monday that 67% of people over 18 polled in Sapporo are against bidding for the Olympics, with nearly half saying there are more important issues facing the city, such as snow removal and COVID-19.
Almost a fourth of the poll respondents cited the Olympic bribery scandal stemming from payments allegedly made to organizers of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo that were delayed for a year due to the pandemic.
Another 13% said they don't want to go after the Games because of the costs involved for facilities. Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Games and has proposed utilizing some of the competition venues built for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
The poll numbers put Salt Lake City's 2030 bid "in a very good position," said Mark Conrad, director of the sports program at Fordham University's Gabelli School of Business in New York City.
Salt Lake City is bidding for either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, with a preference for the later date because with the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles, there's fear back-to-back Olympics in the United States could take a financial hit.
There's little question Utahns want to bring back the Olympics after hosting the 2002 Winter Games. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll last August found 79% of Utahns approve of the Winter Games returning to the state.
The 2030 bid by Vancouver, Canada, to become the first Indigenous-led Olympics also remains in the mix even after the government of British Columbia declined to pledge more than $1 billion towards hosting.
And there's nothing preventing more cities from getting in the race, now that the International Olympic Committee upended the bid process in early December, announcing a final vote on the 2030 host would not happen as scheduled this fall.
"I think the IOC's cards are more limited," Conrad said. "No question, because if you're dealing with a poll that's credible with only one-third of the people wanting the Olympics, that's going to send a big signal."
Public support is critical to IOC members, the professor said, so the growing sentiment against Sapporo's bid "forces their hand because Salt Lake is not only a credible bid, but a good bid," given the legacy left by hosting the successful 2002 Winter Games.
The poll results come just a few weeks after Sapporo's mayor and other officials put the city's bid for 2030 on hold to deal with the impact of the growing bribery scandal that has resulted in multiple indictments.
Sapporo has long struggled to build public support for the bid, especially after the price tag for the Tokyo Olympics rose because of a yearlong postponement that still saw spectators banned and other safety protocols put in place as COVID-19 continued to spread.
Even before the scandal, Sapporo lawmakers decided against holding a referendum on the 2030 bid as Japanese Olympic Committee leaders acknowledged worries about the "huge costs" of hosting another Winter Games in Sapporo.
According to the Hokkaido Shimbun, the latest poll shows a double-digit increase in opposition to Sapporo's bid. Another poll, announced by Sapporo officials last year, found only a slim majority of city residents responding by mail wanted to go for the Games again.
Conrad said there's always the chance that the extra time the IOC is taking to make a 2030 pick could help Sapporo, and even Vancouver, get their bids back on track. He has said the IOC may feel Japan is owed another Olympics after Tokyo's experience with COVID-19.
But the professor said he doesn't believe the IOC was aware of the "depths of the opposition in Sapporo" shown in the poll. "Given the latest news, it's going to be a harder sell for Sapporo."