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[NOTES on a SCORECARD] For Sapporo, It's Now or Never for an Olympic Bid

With lingering animosity toward the domestic Olympic movement over Tokyo 2020 scandals, there could actually be less support for a Sapporo bid down the line.

Confusion continues to reign for the 2030 Sapporo Olympic bid after the Japanese Olympic Committee essentially withdrew its support for the endeavor recently. The lingering animosity toward the domestic Olympic movement over the scandals relating to the Tokyo 2020 Games was cited as the main reason by the JOC.

But this doesn't make sense to me. The JOC is essentially encouraging Sapporo to bid for a later Winter Games, likely in 2034 or 2038. It uses the logic that "support" for a bid will increase after the passage of time.

This philosophy is almost comical. In other words, the belief that after a few years the smell of the Tokyo 2020 scandals will have subsided and suddenly public support for a Sapporo bid might increase sounds like fantasy.

The view here is that this is a strange strategy. Furthermore, the way things are going, there could actually be less support for a Sapporo bid down the line.

I have lived in Japan for a long time, but have never understood this belief that delaying a decision will produce a viable solution in the end. For example, Sapporo was initially interested in being the host of the 2026 Olympics (which will be staged by Cortina/Milan in Italy). But it panicked and withdrew its bid after an earthquake in September 2018.

With eight years still to go, Sapporo bowed out and the final two bidders became Cortina/Milan and Stockholm. The Italian bid won 47-37 in the voting by IOC members in June 2019.

This time around another deferral makes no sense, as giants like Salt Lake City and Vancouver, both recent previous hosts of the Winter Olympics, have interest in bidding to host in 2034 or 2038. If Sapporo thinks it is going to win against those heavyweights, it can forget it.

Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita (KYODO)

Yamashita Has Doubts About a Sapporo Bid

Following his reelection to a third term as JOC president on June 29, Yasuhiro Yamashita expressed a negative view on Sapporo hosting in 2030. This was despite results of a poll released a week earlier by Central Research Service showing that more than 60% of respondents in the country supported a bid by the northern city.

"Under the current circumstances, 2030 will be quite hard," Yamashita was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "The International Olympic Committee highly regards Japan's ability to manage sporting events but attaches great importance to the approval rating of each host candidate."

Yamashita went on to say, "Trust in the Olympics is declining. It's necessary to have a legacy that takes root and makes people think in 10 years' time or 20 years' time, it was good to host the Tokyo Olympics."

The Case to Bid for the 2030 Olympics

As it stands now, nobody else wants to host the 2030 Olympics. The Winter Games are still there for the taking. 

Moreover, the IOC was grateful and felt indebted to Japan for holding Tokyo 2020 during the pandemic in the summer of 2021. The sentiment afterward was that the IOC felt that Japan deserved a "normal" games after staging them in difficult circumstances two years ago.

Sweden is in the process of putting together a lukewarm effort to host the 2030 Olympics. But despite everything, Sapporo would still have the inside track if it continues to move forward.

If Sapporo pulls out again, it will likely be the 2040s before it has another chance at hosting the Olympics. And by then another excuse to bypass a bid may arise and the city may never play host to the global event again.

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Rui Hachimura in a May 2023 file photo. (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

Hachimura Makes Lame Move in Bypassing FIBA World Cup

The decision by Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura to not play for Japan in this summer's FIBA Basketball World Cup is a really weak one. Japan is one of the three co-hosts for the tournament (August 25-September 10), along with Indonesia and the Philippines. For one of the stars of a host nation to bow out with a bogus reason looks very bad.

"I have decided to skip this year's FIBA World Cup," Hachimura said in a statement released on June 27 by the Japan Basketball Association. 

"All apologies for the disappointing news to the fans who were looking forward to the World Cup."

Hachimura then provided his excuses, which could cost Japan a chance at playing in the 2024 Paris Olympics with the World Cup being one of the avenues to qualification.

"It was a very difficult decision but after the season and a long playoffs, and with my first free agency ahead of me, I made this decision in the best interests of my future NBA career. This summer, I hope to focus on training and getting my body ready for next season."

Rui Hachimura (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

The part about free agency became a non-issue just three days later, when Hachimura re-signed with the Lakers for a three-year, $51 million USD (¥7.3 billion JPY) deal. You can also bet that if Japan does qualify for Paris 2024 and the Lakers make the playoffs again next season, Hachimura will play in the Olympics for marketing reasons.

This is another strange decision by the Hachimura camp, following in the wake of him sitting out nearly half the 2021-22 season for mysterious reasons after playing in the Tokyo Olympics. It appears that Hachimura's advisers don't understand the feelings of Japanese fans and the national pride that is part of their support.

Hachimura's move is going to look especially bad when fellow NBA player Yuta Watanabe is double-teamed by opponents during the World Cup and Japan comes up short in the results.

Shohei Ohtani is having another excellent all-around season for the Los Angeles Angels. (KYODO)

Chances of Ohtani Remaining with Angels Looking Slimmer By the Day

The likelihood that superstar pitcher/slugger Shohei Ohtani remains with the Los Angeles Angels took a serious blow when star teammate Mike Trout broke a bone in his left wrist during a swing against the San Diego Padres on Monday, July 3.

Through July 6, the Angels are 45-44. But with Trout likely out for six weeks and possibly facing surgery, the outlook is grim for them to make the playoffs this season. Ohtani has made it clear that when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, he will prioritize playing for a team that can win.

With Trout sidelined, Ohtani, who is coming off an incredible performance in June that saw him hit 15 home runs and bring his MLB-best total to 31, will be faced with having to carry the team for several weeks. That won't be an easy task for the Iwate Prefecture native, who turned 29 on July 5, and may well lead to his decision to leave Anaheim and the Angels after the season.

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Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel and Williams' Nicholas Latifi compete in the Japanese Grand Prix on October 9, 2022. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

Japan F1 Race Changed to Spring in Long Overdue Move

It took far too long, but good news finally arrived on Wednesday, July 5 when the governing body for motor sports (FIA) announced that the annual Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit would be held April 7 in 2024. The FIA said the change was part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions relating to travel by Formula One teams.

Notes On A Scorecard had advocated for a move from the usual fall date for the race in a column back in November of 2022 in hopes it would become safer for the drivers and spectators. Whatever the reason for the change, it is the right decision.

For decades the race had been held in October when it was still typhoon season and rain was likely. French F1 driver Jules Bianchi ended up dying from injuries suffered in wet conditions during the 2014 race, and his friend and compatriot Pierre Gasly narrowly avoided disaster on a slick track in 2022 when he nearly hit a crane removing a car that had been in an accident.

The 2024 Japanese Grand Prix will follow the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and be held just ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.


Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on Twitter @sportsjapan.

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