Sapporo’s apparent frontrunner status in the race with Salt Lake City and Vancouver, Canada, for the 2030 Winter Games may be challenged by a new bribery scandal involving organizers of the last Olympics held in Japan, the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo that were postponed a year due to COVID-19.

Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto and other Japanese officials have canceled plans to meet about the bid with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, later this month, reported Monday.

Although Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita said the decision to cancel the delegation’s visit was “due to scheduling,” a source related to the Sapporo municipal government blamed it on increasing opposition in Sapporo to the bid in the wake of the bribery scandal, Japan’s Jiji Press reported.

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The scandal involves bribes allegedly paid by would-be sponsors to an executive of Tokyo’s Olympic organizing committee, Haruyuki Takahashi. Takahashi, described by ABC News as having “enormous clout in arranging Olympic sponsorships,” has been in detention since being arrested last month on suspicion of receiving bribes.

Tuesday, Takahashi was “re-arrested,” the American TV network said, over allegations he got $540,000 from a Japanese publishing company to produce programs and books related to the Tokyo Olympics, and formally charged with receiving $360,000 from a clothing manufacturer that outfitted the Japanese Olympic team.

Employees of both companies have also been charged, the network said, calling the scandal “likely a setback to Japan’s ambitions in pursuing the 2030 Winter Olympics for Sapporo” and noting that Seiko Hashimoto, a lawmaker and Olympian in charge of the Tokyo Games, has promised to cooperate with the investigation.

The Japanese Olympic Committee president suggested in August after Takahashi’s initial arrest that the bribery allegations could already be affecting Sapporo’s bid, according to The Japan Times, especially given surveys conducted earlier this year showing as few as 52% of residents backed hosting another Winter Games.

“In order to succeed in winning the right to host the Sapporo 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, we have to take into account the good points of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the bad points,” Yamashita said, adding, “With the current rate of support among Sapporo and Hokkaido residents, winning will be difficult.”

In contrast, a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in July found that just under 80% of Utahns approve of hosting another Olympics. Previous polling done in 2017 for a state committee exploring a bid put the level of support even higher, at 89%.

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All three cities currently competing for the 2030 Winter Games have previously hosted — Sapporo, in 1972; Salt Lake City, in 2002; and Vancouver, in 2010. Sapporo and Salt Lake City had been considered frontrunners as Vancouver continues to seek needed government and other approvals for its bid, but that seems to have shifted.

In June, Bach raised issues about some of the U.S. response to Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Games despite China’s human rights record during a meeting in Switzerland with leaders of Salt Lake City’s bid, in addition to concerns about back-to-back Olympics in the same country, since the 2028 Summer Games are in Los Angeles.

A few weeks later, the IOC president made it clear there won’t be a decision on the host of the 2034 Winter Games until after his term ends in 2025. There had been speculation that with two strong candidates in Sapporo and Salt Lake City, IOC leaders would announce their picks for both 2030 and 2034 when they meet in December.

At that meeting, the IOC Executive Board is now expected to advance a city to the contract negotiation stage for only 2030 under its new, less formal bidding process, with the full IOC membership ratifying the pick at next year’s meeting in India.

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Salt Lake City’s bid has always been focused on both 2030 and 2034. Leaders of both the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee have pledged Utah is prepared to host whenever needed, even while acknowledging 2034 is increasingly more likely.

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the bid committee, declined to comment on Sapporo’s situation.

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“Any city that works hard to try and put together a bid, I respect them because it’s hard,” Bullock said. “From our perspective, we have our bid to offer the Olympic movement, whether it’s 2030 or 2034. Whatever’s best for the movement, that’s what we will do. And we stand ready at any time.”

Bullock served as chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, part of a new leadership team led by now-Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, that was put in place after an international scandal surfaced in the late 1990s over the cash, gifts and other incentives handed out to secure the votes of IOC members for Utah’s bid.

Since what was known as the Salt Lake City bid scandal, the IOC has implemented a number of reforms to the bid process. But Reuters reported that during Tokyo’s bid, Takahashi gave gifts including digital cameras and a Seiko watch to an IOC member later jailed in France for corruption.

Takahashi told the news service in 2020 there was nothing improper about the millions of dollars he was paid to work on Tokyo’s successful bid, or with the way he used the money. The IOC member he lobbied, Lamine Diack, of Senegal, had been one of the most powerful people in athletics. He died last year at the age of 88.

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