Sapporo unveils bid to host 2026 Winter Olympics

Sapporo city, in Hokkaido, Japan, in winter.

TOKYO - The northern Japanese city of Sapporo on Thursday announced it was entering the bidding to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, half a century after it first held the Games.

"It is the best possible opportunity for many of our citizens to share a dream and combine their efforts toward a big goal," Fumio Ueda, the city's mayor told assembly members.

Sapporo, on the main northern island of Hokkaido, played host to the Winter Games in 1972. Japan also hosted the 1998 edition in Nagano.

The announcement came over a year after Tokyo won the rights to the 2020 Summer Olympics, five decades after the city became the first in Asia to host the Games, in 1964.

According to a survey conducted by the city, about two thirds of Sapporo residents are positive about plans to host the Games.

The city, which regularly hosts World Cup ski jumping, estimates the event would cost 405 billion yen (S$4.5 billion), the official said.

The bid will need to be endorsed domestically before the Japanese Olympic Committee can submit it to the International Olympic Committee in 2017, officials and local media said.

The IOC is expected to pick a host city in 2019.

Since Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games, local and national managers have played up the opportunity they say it offers to revitalise the economy.

Barely a public announcement goes by without some reference to the Games, and everyone from taxi drivers to bell hops is being told to brush up their English to welcome Olympic visitors.

However, there is growing disquiet over the spiralling cost and the perception that vast resources are being spent on an already well-off capital city - instead of on reconstruction in tsunami-damaged areas of Japan's northeast.

Sapporo is home to an annual snow festival and is a common jumping off point for skiers from all over Asia who go to enjoy fine powder snow for up to five months every year.

The next Winter Olympics will be held in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.