Olympic planners in Sapporo are afraid of the people (nd-aktuell.de)

Olympic planners in Sapporo are afraid of the people (nd-aktuell.de)

Olympic flights of fancy: Sapporo wants the mega event, but not a referendum about it.

Foto: imago / Kyodo News

Those who travel to the north of Japan these days will experience a festival atmosphere. “The project ‘One medal every day’ with the hashtag ‘Good people, good city’ is now running in Shiroi koibito Park,” the television station STV announced happily on Thursday. “It’s an initiative as part of Sapporo’s Olympic bid for the 2030 Games.” In the park on the outskirts of Sapporo, interested parties can now take photos of themselves with chocolate medals and send greetings. »The project runs until August 31!«

If you didn’t know better, you would think from this TV report that Sapporo is preparing for a major event that is approaching anyway. You still have to win the right to hold the event. In addition to Sapporo, Barcelona and the Pyrenees in Spain, Vancouver and Whistler in Canada as well as Salt Lake City in the USA are also applying to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the 2030 Winter Olympics. At least according to the Japanese media, Sapporo is the clear favorite.

During the Tokyo Summer Games last year, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported, with reference to internal sources, that the IOC was likely to award the contract to Sapporo in 2022. That would be a year earlier than usual, but it is conceivable: Unlike in the past, the IOC no longer gives itself a fixed framework as far as the timing of the award is concerned. The venue of the 2030 Games could be decided at any time.

Just two weeks ago, an IOC delegation traveled to northern Japan to review plans for venues and transportation. And in Sapporo, where the 1972 Winter Games were held, people are quite sure of themselves: “Existing facilities can be used here,” emphasized Akihiro Okumura, a spokesman for the bid committee, after the IOC visit. “Some may need refurbishing. We will check that together.«

In the 1.9 million metropolis of Sapporo, a city with cold winters and reliable snowfall, the focus is officially on sustainability – both in terms of finances and the environment. Such claims should make many Japanese ears ring loudly. At the Olympics in Tokyo, too, the organizers initially sold people “compact games” that were cheap because all the important infrastructure was already there. In the end, the Olympic Stadium was rebuilt and the budget once estimated was exceeded many times over.

Years before the start of the pandemic, it turned out that “Tokyo 2020” would be significantly more expensive than estimated. But the right to hold the event had already been awarded. The people in Tokyo and Japan, whose tax money is now being used to finance the sports festival, which only lasts a few weeks, could no longer resist. When the pandemic spread and the games with empty ranks, which were postponed to summer 2021, led to the expectation of an even greater financial loss, the spectacle was nevertheless carried out.

The organizers decided over the heads of around 80 percent of the Japanese, who spoke out in various polls against holding “Tokyo 2020”. The dispute in the East Asian country was great. So it may seem crazy when the Japanese government dares to experiment with the Olympics again. In the immediate aftermath of the Tokyo Games, it was increasingly prophesied that public opposition would be substantial. Especially since Japan’s Olympic Committee has asserted that it intends to seek more dialogue with the public from now on. After all, this is also the official line of the IOC: In 2019, Vice President John Coates announced that candidate cities would be expected to hold a referendum in the future. Referring to potential candidate cities, he said: “It is not unreasonable to say that before we consider you, you must satisfy us, that you must have the public and state support.”

Hardly anyone today would consider such a requirement to be unreasonable. Because Olympic applications have been withdrawn again and again over the last few years after the plans had fallen through with the local population. Referendums in Vienna, Innsbruck, Sion, St. Moritz and Davos, Hamburg, Kraków, Munich and Bern shattered the dreams of the organizers after extensive planning work and PR campaigns. The most common reason was the high costs that the mega event would have caused.

In Sapporo things have been arranged differently. This week the city administration voted on whether to let the citizens vote. The assembly, which is dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party, which also governs all of Japan, decided against it. So there is no referendum. On closer inspection, however, the IOC is not bothered. Because as long as no referendum is called for in the country, the IOC doesn’t want to deal with it either.

The argument that can be heard in Sapporo against a vote could at the same time be understood as one in favor. Officials have said that in recent polls, 52 percent voted in favor of the city applying – which means that a new vote would no longer be necessary. Although this also looks like fear of the will of the people. Because there is only an extremely narrow approval for the Olympic application. In addition, a questionnaire from the city in March consisted of suggestions like these: »Sapporo 2030 is not just a temporary sports event, but a development project so that the city can shine in the future.« Or: »The running costs of the games will be financed by grants from the IOC and income from sponsors«, so that no tax money would be used for this.

More than 60 percent of those surveyed agreed with such statements. It was not explained to the interviewees that investments in infrastructure are usually paid for by taxpayers’ money and that these, in turn, if deemed necessary, could also be made without the Olympic Games.

These are persuasion tactics that the Japanese bidders were already pursuing for the Tokyo Summer Games. Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the expensive summer games in the midst of the pandemic wants to be forgotten as quickly as possible. The government recently announced that it would provide financial support to communities across the country to promote the legacy of Tokyo 2020. Probably also so that as little as possible goes wrong with the plans in Sapporo.

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