Sapporo, pictured hosting the 2017 Asian Winter Games, seems likely to focus on a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games ©Getty Images

Sapporo City officials insist that no final decision has been made on whether they bid for the 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games but they have admitted that local opinion polls indicate they should focus on the latter attempt.

It follows extensive reports in Japan yesterday that Sapporo have told the country's National Olympic Committee that they intend to focus on 2030 and withdraw from the earlier contest.

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) told insidethegames yesterday that no "official" request has been made but did not deny that there had been informal conversations.

Discussions have also taken place with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

"First of all, Sapporo has not made any official decision yet that we give up bidding for Games 2026 and decide to focus only on Games 2030," a Sapporo City spokesperson added today.

"City of Sapporo and JOC have been talking about all the possibilities on bidding Games 2026 and other options since we participated in the Dialogue Stage [which began on April 1].

"We recognise that we don’t have much time for making an official decision as Mayor of Sapporo [Akimoto Katsuhiro] already expressed to the local media about that.

"Dialogue Stage will continue until this October, however, we will conduct a survey to grasp how much support there is in the local community during the Dialog Stage in case we will decide to go forward to the 2026 officially."

The spokesperson added that "it may take some time for the preparation and it’s the main reason why we don’t have much time for making the decision, which means that Sapporo needs to talk with JOC and other stakeholders intensively".

"In addition, recently we have been received the voice from the opinion polls conducted by local media and Sapporo chamber of commerce separately that it might be better for Sapporo to bid for the Games 2030 instead of 2026," they continued.

"This is actually one of the factors we need to consider for the decision.

"Under those situation surrounding Sapporo, local media issued the article that Sapporo decided to shift for 2030 and the news are running in Japan."

Sapporo Mayor Akimoto Katsuhiro, left, pictured alongside Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda ©Getty Images
Sapporo Mayor Akimoto Katsuhiro, left, pictured alongside Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda ©Getty Images

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.

It is likely that a new railway, due to reach Sapporo, which should be completed by 2030, is another influential factor in a four-year wait.

However, 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 next year.