The 1972 Winter Olympics put Sapporo on the sporting map, writes Rob Goss, and its celebrated Dome – which has special memories for English football and rugby fans – will play a big part in the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021
In 1972, Sapporo played host to the XI Winter Olympic Games, bringing together just over 1,000 athletes from 35 nations and marking the first time that the winter edition of the Games was held in Asia. Among other landmarks, the Games saw Japan win its first ever Winter gold, when the nation swept all three podium spots in the men’s 70m ski jump. More importantly, the Winter Olympics put Sapporo firmly on the international stage as a sporting venue.
Being a snowy, northern city, it might not be a surprise to hear that Sapporo went on to host the 2007 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and the 2017 Asian Winter Games. But the city has also been part of English sporting history: Sapporo’s main stadium, Sapporo Dome, is where David Beckham claimed redemption from the penalty spot as England beat Argentina 1-0 in the group stages of the 2002 World Cup. More recently, it’s where England’s rugby team kicked off their near-miss of a campaign at the 2019 Rugby World Cup with a 35-3 victory over Tonga.
The 41,000-seat Dome will be in action again in the summer of 2021 as one of the football venues for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which has been pushed to the summer of 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thanks to Sapporo’s relatively cool, refreshing summers – when the high temperature hovers around the 25-degree mark – the city will also host the Tokyo 2020 marathon and race-walking events, which were considered too dangerous to hold 500 miles south in the high heat and humidity of a Tokyo summer.
Both those Olympic events will be centred on Odori Koen, the green belt that stretches about a mile east to west through the heart of Sapporo – ordinarily the summer setting for beer gardens and the Yosakoi Soran dance festival, where some 27,000 colourfully costumed dancers perform high-energy routines as hundreds of thousands line the streets to watch on.
Name: Sapporo Dome
Home Teams: Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters
Completed: March 2001
Architect: Hiroshi Hara
Designed by Hiroshi Hara, whose major works include Kyoto Station and the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, the Sapporo Dome is a multifunctional venue that can transform from a football stadium into a baseball park, due to its retractable surface. Raised on a pneumatic system, the playing field is able to rotate and pass through a 90m opening of two walls, with the whole process taking five hours to complete. Inaugurated in June 2001, the stadium also serves as a meeting place for local citizens, which is why it has been nicknamed Hiroba, the public square. Its 53m high cupola offers incredible views over the city.