Sapporo could delay their attempt to land the Winter Olympic Games ©Getty Images

Sapporo has reportedly told the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) that they would prefer to bid for the 2030 rather than the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This has been reported extensively today by Japanese media, but the JOC maintain that they have had no "official" request for a four-year postponement.

Sapporo have also refrained from commenting publicly so far but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed they have discussed an "interest" in 2030.

The northern Japanese city and 1972 Olympic host 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 that the Winter Games will return to a "traditional" location in 2026 last year, 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.

Jiji Press have quoted "informed sources" in reporting that the capital of Hokkaido is "considering revising its bid and has indicated its wish to the JOC unofficially".

The Asahi Shimbun said that Sapporo Mayor Akimoto Katsuhiro is likely to confirm the change in plans to the City Council "within the month".

Kyodo News also reported the likely change today, quoting "sources familiar with the matter", but added that: "As many JOC members deem the four-year delay would negatively affect the northern Japanese city's position in the international race, the organisation will carefully consider whether it is possible to change the plan".

Akimoto Katsuhiro speaks at the Closing Ceremony of the Sapporo 2017 Asian Winter Games ©Getty Images
Akimoto Katsuhiro speaks at the Closing Ceremony of the Sapporo 2017 Asian Winter Games ©Getty Images

"During the dialogue stage, we are laying out all the possibilities at working-level," the JOC told insidethegames today.

"The Japanese Olympic Committee has not received any official information, regarding to the matter reported by the Japanese media, from Sapporo City at the moment."

The IOC remained ambiguous on the subject but confirmed they were aware of the potential change.

"The IOC spoke with Sapporo yesterday during a regularly scheduled call, which was part of our ongoing collaboration during the Dialogue Stage of the Candidature Process for the Olympic Winter Games 2026, and an interest in 2030 was also mentioned," a spokesperson told insidethegames.

"We welcome the fact the city is projecting itself to host the Games in the future."

Toshiya Ishikawa, a director general of Sapporo's sports affairs department, told Kyodo News late last month that voices within the city were calling for a focus on 2030, but that they were staying in the race for the time being and planning to carry-out a survey to assess local support. 

Aside from the geographical balance argument, another reason to wait for 2030 is that by then the Hokkaido Shinkansen, a Japanese high-speed rail line, is expected to reach the city.

It is likely that many in the JOC would prefer to stay in the race, however, due to the possibility of a joint awarding for 2030, or a flood of withdrawals deeming 2026 an easier contest to win.

Japan is one of seven countries which formally expressed interest in bidding for 2026 before a March 31 deadline.

Sion in Switzerland must survive a referendum next month while Calgary in Canada is also likely to face a public ballot at some stage between October and January.

A bid from either Milan, Turin and Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy is still dependent on support from the yet-to-be-formed Italian Government while Stockholm in Sweden is still lacking political support.

Spanish skier Francisco Fernández Ochoa skiing to slalom victory at Sapporo 1972. It remains Spain's only Winter Olympic gold medal ©Getty Images
Spanish skier Francisco Fernández Ochoa skiing to slalom victory at Sapporo 1972. It remains Spain's only Winter Olympic gold medal ©Getty Images

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.

United States and Norway are among countries who have vowed to target a bid for 2030 rather than 2026.

The IOC have also not yet commented on Sapporo's possible postponement, but are likely to want the city to stay in the race at this stage.

A vote to put forward cities to the candidature stage is expected to take place at an IOC Session in Buenos Aires in October.

A host should then be chosen at an IOC Session in 2019 which is still currently due to be held in Milan. 

However, this would have to change if Italy's bid remains in the race.