By Karolos Grohmann
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - A Sapporo bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics will be better than the Japanese city's failed attempt to win the 2026 Games, due to improved infrastructure, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Thursday.
The northern city which hosted the 1972 Winter Games -- the first in Asia -- had attempted to bid for the 2026 Olympics in 2018 before pulling out following a deadly earthquake in Hokkaido.
Forty-four people were killed and 660 injured when the powerful earthquake rattled the island of Hokkaido in September 2018, prompting Sapporo to shelve its Olympic ambitions.
Yet a Sapporo delegation led by its mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, is due to meet Bach in Lausanne later on Thursday.
They will discuss the surprise move of the Tokyo 2020 marathons and race walks to Sapporo, due to heat concerns in the Japanese capital in the summer, as well as the city's plans to earn the 2030 Games.
"We are very pleased by the professionalism the city of Sapporo and different organisations have been demonstrating by addressing the questions with regard to the organisation of the Olympic marathons and race walks," Bach told reporters.
"We could see all the experience Sapporo has in organising marathons and other big events."
The IOC stunned and angered Tokyo Games organisers in October by announcing the marathon and race walks would be moved to cooler Sapporo, some 800 km to the north of Tokyo, to avoid the worst of Tokyo’s summer heat.
Sapporo expressed its interest in bidding for the 2030 Games shortly after the failed 2026 effort and well before the sudden move of the 2020 Games events to the city.
"I am very much interested to hear his position and his intentions and those of the city," Bach said.
"Already this candidature was an excellent one (for 2026). Until 2030 it would even be better. We understand that by 2030 the infrastructure would even be improved compared to 2026.
"There can be no doubt that Sapporo could organise excellent Winter Games."
The IOC has changed the way it awards the Olympics, opting to avoid a bidding process by instead going into direct talks with potential hosts. There is no set date for a decision on the 2030 host city.
So far Salt Lake City in the United States, Norway's Lillehammer and Spain's Barcelona have indicated in recent months they might make a run for the 2030 Games.
Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Games and the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina D'Ampezzo will stage the 2026 edition.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis)