The city of Sapporo and the Japanese Olympic Committee on Wednesday abandoned their bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics and decided to aim for 2034 or later.
Sapporo has been unable to build momentum as public sentiment has soured following revelations of widespread bribery and bid-rigging related to the Tokyo Games held in the summer of 2021.
JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita had proposed that Sapporo bid for 2034 or later, and Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto agreed to the plan during a meeting in Tokyo.
Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido in northern Japan, hosted the 1972 Winter Games and was once considered the front-runner to host for a second time, but the International Olympic Committee appears to have shifted its focus to other candidates.
"There's a possibility that moving forward with the bid movement too hastily will leave an irrecoverable wound on the value of sports," Yamashita told a press conference. "I'm sorry for the people of Sapporo and Hokkaido."
Akimoto said the appetite to host the Winter Games has not improved in the wake of bribery and bid-rigging cases and admitted the city will face a difficult road ahead for the 2034 games.
Salt Lake City is seen as the favorite for 2034, leaving Japan with an uncertain path to staging its third Winter Games after Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998.
"It's a very tough situation. We need to examine our future activities," the mayor said.
Sweden, Switzerland and France are considering making bids to host the 2030 games.
Sapporo's prospect of hosting the 2034 games will get slimmer should the IOC go ahead with a simultaneous announcement of the 2030 and 2034 hosts, an idea to be discussed during the IOC executive board meeting and session starting Thursday in Mumbai.
If approved, the 2034 host could be announced as early as next summer at the IOC Session in Paris, leaving Sapporo short of time to prepare another bid and sell it to the public. The selection process and the timing of the announcement for the 2038 games host are not yet known.
"We'll gauge public sentiment at an appropriate time," Akimoto said of the city's future bidding.
Akimoto, who has championed the 2030 bid, was reelected in April. But in a sign of anti-Olympic sentiment, two rival candidates who ran against hosting performed strongly in the election.
The Hokkaido capital was initially aiming to bid for the 2026 Winter Games but changed its plan to focus on repairing damage from a magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck the northern main island in September 2018, killing more than 40 people and triggering a massive power outage.
On top of the disaster, the city has failed to convey a clear image and message to locals as to why hosting the games was necessary at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and the Tokyo Games-related corruption all weighed heavily on the public.
Yasuo Mori, a former operations executive on the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, and a former Dentsu executive were among those indicted for their suspected role in rigging bids for contracts worth around 43.7 billion yen ($290 million) to plan and run Olympic test events and competitions.
The bid-rigging allegations followed multiple indictments of Haruyuki Takahashi, a former executive of the organizing committee who was previously a senior managing director at advertising giant Dentsu, on charges of receiving bribes in return for helping companies become selected as Olympic sponsors or marketing agents.
"Some things remained unclear (after the news of corruption). It's a good decision to halt it," said 56-year-old local Noriko Homma, while Misuzu Asai, a 27-year-old on her honeymoon from Nagano Prefecture, lamented the news as hosting the games "would have lifted the whole of Japan."