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Asia would welcome third straight Winter Olympics: OCA chief

(Reuters) - Asia is ready, willing and able to host a third straight Winter Olympics if the Japanese city of Sapporo wins the bid for the 2026 Games, Olympic Council of Asia President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah has said.

Sapporo hosted Asia's first Winter Olympics in 1972 and has also staged the Asian Winter Games three times, including the inaugural edition in 1986 and the ongoing Feb. 19-26 event.

City officials said in late 2014 they would be keen on a 2026 bid, though the Japanese Olympic Committee would also need to approve it proceeding.

With South Korea's Pyeongchang staging the Winter Olympics in 2018 and Beijing hosting the event four years later, a third successive Winter Games in Asia would underline the region's growing presence on the international sporting stage.

The Summer Olympics will also be held in Asia in 2020 in Tokyo.

Sheikh Ahmad said the way the ongoing Asiad had been organized clearly demonstrated Sapporo would take the task of hosting another Olympics in its stride.

"I am happy to hear that Sapporo is ready to host the Olympic Winter Games. Sapporo is capable and ready," he said at a news conference on Tuesday, adding that Sapporo had "all the tools, all the facilities and all the experience" needed to stage the multi-sport event.

Beijing and the nearby city of Zhangjiakou beat Kazakhstan's Almaty for the right to host the 2022 Games after the other competitors dropped out, citing costs and other worries, and Sheikh Ahmad said an Asian bid for 2026 would depend on the level of interest from other countries.

The costs of staging Olympics have become a hot-button issue in recent years and prompted the International Olympic Committee to take steps aimed at keeping spending under control

Reforms known as "Agenda 2020", carried out under IOC President Thomas Bach with the aim of making the Olympics more sustainable, allow hosts to use facilities in other cities or even countries if it makes financial and practical sense.

Hamburg, Rome and Boston have already abandoned bids to host the 2024 Summer Games while Budapest could also pull out. That would leave only Paris and Los Angeles still in the race.

"If there is a lot who bid, we will have to evaluate the situation, but if not then we have a good chance," the Kuwaiti added. "We are ready to host a third Olympic Winter Games."

Japan's Nagano hosted Asia's last Winter Olympics in 1998.

(Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)