Photo/IllutrationFrom left: Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and Sapporo Deputy Mayor Takatoshi Machida in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sept. 17 (Kosuke Inagaki)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland--Sapporo city has withdrawn from the race to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, a decision sealed by the destructive earthquake that hit southwestern Hokkaido earlier this month.

Sapporo officials informed the International Olympic Committee that the Hokkaido capital will drop it bid and focus instead on rebuilding from the disaster. They also said that the city intended to bid for the 2030 Winter Games.

“We are determined to do our best, first, to rebuild the region and plan to move forward a project to host the Olympics with the full support of Sapporo residents when the rebuilding is completed,” Sapporo Deputy Mayor Takatoshi Machida told reporters after his meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach here on Sept. 17.

Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda also attended the meeting.

The magnitude-6.7 earthquake struck early on Sept. 6, leaving 41 people dead and 1,628 homes and buildings destroyed or damaged.

In Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido with 1.95 million people, 631 homes were damaged.

Bach reacted positively to Sapporo’s opting for the 2030 Olympics, according to Japanese officials who were present at the meeting.

The IOC chief said the city’s new bid will provide hope for its residents and raise confidence in the rebuilding process.

Sapporo’s pullout came before the IOC’s Candidature Stage in October, when the committee selects the official candidate cities for the 2026 Winter Games.

Sapporo was in the preceding process known as the Dialogue Stage, but the city had shifted its sights to 2030 even before the earthquake struck.

Local business leaders have been calling for a switch to 2030 so that Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Games, would be fully ready for another Olympics with the planned extension of the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line to Sapporo in fiscal 2030.

“We have been saying for a while that 2030 would be the best from the perspectives of Sapporo and Hokkaido as a whole, improving Sapporo’s infrastructure, and the extension of the Hokkaido Shinkansen bullet train line,” Machida said.

He said the earthquake hit at a time when the city was trying to find the best way to convey its decision to drop out of the 2026 race to the IOC ahead of its October deadline.

Bach had expressed an encouraging attitude toward Sapporo’s 2026 bid, saying the IOC would have no problem with another Asian city staying in the race.

Pyeongchang, South Korea, hosted the previous Winter Olympics earlier in 2018, while Beijing will hold the next winter event in 2022.

With Sapporo dropping out, the 2026 race, which started with seven countries in April, is now down to: Stockholm, Sweden; Calgary, Canada; a three-way Italian bid from Turin, Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo; and Erzurum, Turkey.

A couple more candidates could drop out because of opposition from residents and political instability, according to watchers.