Now that the race for the 2030 Winter Games appears to be between Salt Lake City and Sapporo, Japan, which city is the favorite?

Some longtime Olympic observers aren’t high on Salt Lake City’s chances of hosting the next Winter Games to be awarded by the International Olympic Committee following the apparent end of a 2030 bid from Vancouver, Canada, due to government concerns over the price tag.

It’s Sapporo that’s being seen as the front-runner, despite fallout from an Olympic bribery scandal involving an executive with the 2020 Summer Games held last year in Tokyo accused of accepting money from companies seeking sponsorships.

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“Ideally, I think the IOC at this point would like to see Sapporo for 2030 and Salt Lake City for 2034. I think it kind of works out naturally with the way the situation is now,” said Robert Livingstone, the Canada-based producer of

Ed Hula, founder of Around the Rings, an international source of Olympic news now based in Argentina, also said he expects the IOC to go for Sapporo. Both cities have previously hosted a Winter Games — Sapporo in 1972 and Salt Lake City in 2002.

“I still think it would be Sapporo,” Hula said, thanks to advantages like colder weather. That is, he said, unless there turns out to be “complications we don’t know about, or a shift in public and government opinion about the bid that hasn’t been revealed fully yet.”

Livingstone said Sapporo is continuing to campaign hard for 2030.

“They’re still really pushing for that, at least the government is. Obviously, we know the scandal has soured public opinion,” he said, adding that his contacts in Sapporo say “they’re hoping time will mend the bad, the ill will. The IOC has pushed out the dates a little bit, which may help.”

The IOC’s final vote on the 2030 host was recently postponed from May until the fall of 2023, raising the question of whether the Switzerland-based organization’s leaders will proceed as planned in December with a decision on which city — or cities — should advance to the contract negotiation stage of the new, less formal bid process.

Livingstone said it’s possible the IOC Executive Board will give Sapporo the nod in December to move into what’s known as targeted dialog, “then spending a few months working it out, doing polls and that kind of thing,” to see if public support in the Japanese region can be restored.

What may be more likely is that IOC leaders will delay their decision so they could tap Salt Lake City if needed, he said. But Livingstone said opposition to Sapporo’s bid might not be hard to turn around because it’s “pretty subtle right now. They’re not marching in the streets against this and there’s no polls coming out below 50% support.”

Hula said Sapporo’s enthusiasm gap could widen as Japan reckons with the expense of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The official cost was double the initial budget at more than $13 billion, with much of the funding coming from Japanese taxpayers.

“You got to wonder how tenuous the enthusiasm is among the government and business community in the aftermath of Tokyo 2020,” he said, calling the Olympic bribery scandal “a late blip here. I think any kind of lack of enthusiasm would be just the exhaustion that resulted from dealing with an extra year of taking care of Tokyo.”

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Nearly 80% of Utahns said they support bringing another Olympics to the state in a recent Deseret News/University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. And while Utah’s bid is for either the 2030 or the 2034 Winter Games, backers have said they want to host sooner rather than later.

However, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee recently made it clear its preference is that Salt Lake City doesn’t host just 18 months after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles because of the feared financial impact of back-to-back Games in the United States.

There’s also been friction with the IOC over some of the U.S. response to the 2022 Winter Games being held in Beijing despite China’s human rights record, something that’s said to have caused “bad feelings” among many IOC members.

A dual award of both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games at the same time has been ruled out by IOC President Thomas Bach, who announced in an interview with Japan’s Kyodo News Service that a decision on 2034 won’t come until after his term ends in three years so his successor has control over the choice.

Not everyone is counting Salt Lake City out for 2030.

“I know most observers still think Sapporo has an advantage,” said Mark Conrad, director of the sports program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business in New York City. “I don’t think it’s a done deal.”

Conrad said Salt Lake City’s bid offers “virtually every facility ready to go, in an attractive time zone for the United States,” something appealing to both broadcasters and sponsors since the all-important American audience can watch Olympic events as they happen in prime time.

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The professor said the decision will come down to Sapporo’s support, which he expects to erode over time.

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“The longer it takes, I think the better for Salt Lake,” Conrad said. “Because I think you’re going to see public reaction. The IOC is very concerned about the public reacting and public criticism. Let’s see what happens over there. There have been a number of people who’ve spoken up against (Sapporo’s) bid.”

There may well be more investigations into the Olympic bribery scandal in Japan that’s already led to multiple charges, he said. “It’s not going to go away. I think they’re going to see more dirt come out.” Plus, Conrad said he believes Japan “has been stung” by being “stuck with the bill” for an unexpectedly expensive Tokyo Games.

“Economic factors can play a very big part. The world’s in a recession and the IOC wants to be really safe,” he said, making Salt Lake City a better bet because the facilities built for 2002 have continued to be used for international competitions so once chosen, “it can get going pretty quickly.”

For him, Salt Lake City is the better pick for 2030, even though the IOC “vote is next year and anything can happen, of course. Certainly, if one of them gets ’30 the other would be, not a shoe-in but a very strong candidate for ’34.”

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