Salt Lake City’s chief rival to host the 2030 Winter Games is taking a break from bidding.

Sapporo’s mayor and other officials recently announced the pause, to deal with the impact of Japan’s growing Olympic bribery scandal involving payments made to organizers of the 2020 Summer Games held in Tokyo last year.

“We recognize we cannot move forward unless we review our operations for the 2030 Games and show that to the world,” Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto told reporters on Dec. 20, according to The Associated Press.

As for bidding, the mayor said Sapporo “will discontinue for some time any aggressive effort on such activities. We will review our bid to gain the true understanding of the people of the city.”

But that doesn’t mean Sapporo is out of the running.

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The one-time frontrunner in a race that may also still include Vancouver, Canada, is expected to be back following an effort to rebuild public support throughout Japan for another Olympics in Sapporo, host of the 1972 Winter Games, the first held in Asia.

Sapporo’s announcement comes after International Olympic Committee leaders made a surprise move in early December to postpone choosing a 2030 host. The final pick, set to be made next fall, likely won’t come until 2024 and could also include the 2034 host.

While the IOC said the reason for the delay is the need for assessing the effects of climate change on the Winter Games and looking at the possibility of eventually establishing permanent, rotating host cities, some see it as intended to help Sapporo’s bid.

“Sapporo officials see a different reason for the postponement. The city’s bid was believed to have had a strong chance,” NHK Sapporo correspondent Santo Shino said during a recent segment on the Japanese network’s English-language world broadcast.

But that was before the Tokyo Games’ corruption scandal erupted, she said, noting many people she’s interviewed in Sapporo are not in favor of the bid, suggesting the already limited support has further eroded.

“Some city officials say the IOC may want to give them and the JOC (Japanese Olympic Committee) more time to turn the tide around on both of those issues,” Shino said, adding that the bid process continues.

What’s changed, she said, is that “before, much of the work was on convincing the world that Sapporo should host the Games. Now officials are concentrating inward” to make sure the public is on board.

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Canada’s CBC News reported that Nao Masumoto, a visiting professor of Olympic studies at Tokyo Metropolitan University, believes the IOC still wants Sapporo to host the 2030 Games and is waiting until the problems “calm down.”

Masumoto told the national broadcaster that although public support in Sapporo for the bid has declined, that could change once the Olympic corruption story is no longer dominating Japan’s news cycle.

People will forget, the professor said, adding, “The IOC forgets, too.”

Salt Lake City seems to be getting a boost from Sapporo’s situation.

The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, declared in a recent headline, “Salt Lake City could become the de facto host for the 2030 Winter Olympics as Japan deals with a bribery scandal related to the Tokyo games.”

According to Front Office Sports, the story is, “Salt Lake City Emerges As Winter Olympics Host Favorite.” The New York City-based online publication said, “with Japan’s bid in doubt, Salt Lake City could end up as the last potential host standing.”

Salt Lake City, which hosted the 2002 Winter Games, is bidding for both 2030 and 2034. The preference is to wait until 2034, since Los Angeles is the site of the 2028 Summer Games and back-to-back Olympics in the U.S. could hurt sponsorship revenues.

Mark Conrad, director of the sports program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business in New York City, said Salt Lake City clearly benefits from the pause in Sapporo’s bid.

“It strengthens their hand,” Conrad said, adding that becoming the likely choice for 2030 could result in Salt Lake City having rare leverage in negotiating a host city contract with the IOC.

Those negotiations were supposed to be getting underway, but no bid cities have been advanced to the contract negotiation stage under the new, less formal bid process. That had originally been set to happen in early December.

Conrad agreed that the IOC Executive Board’s decision not to hold a final vote on the 2030 host next fall as planned does buy Sapporo’s bid “some breathing room.” But he said there’s much to be done before the city could be selected.

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“You could say that in theory it could possibly help Sapporo but there’s no guarantee it will,” he said, since the Olympic bribery scandal that’s already led to several indictments could continue to expand and a skeptical public is hard to turn around.

“I think the IOC morally owes a place in Japan, I would argue, because of Tokyo,” Conrad said, unless “it’s going to be too hot to handle.” The Tokyo Games were delayed a year due to COVID-19 and have ended up costing nearly double the original $7 billion estimate.

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, had little to say about Sapporo stepping back.

“Bidding to host the Games is always a fluid process with changing dynamics,” Bullock said in a statement. “It is challenging to assemble all the elements of a bid. While we observe the other bidders, our focus is putting together the best bid possible.”

He said that takes “a tremendous amount of work and we continue to be deeply engaged to complete our bid file work in the spring of next year. We believe we have all the pieces to be a fantastic host of the Games, either in 2030 or 2034.”