SAPPORO, Japan, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- The President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, hailed the "real partnership" between the OCA and Sapporo city at the welcome reception for the 8th Asian Winter Games on Saturday evening.
Sheikh Ahmad said that Sapporo and the Asian Winter Games had grown side by side since Sapporo hosted the OCA's first AWG in 1986.
"This city has special meaning to us, especially in our winter sports," he said.
"We have witnessed the development of Sapporo as an international city and Sapporo has witnessed the development of winter sports in Asia. This is a real partnership between the city and our organization, the OCA."
Sheikh Ahmad noted that the OCA's inaugural AWG in Sapporo in 1986 featured only seven teams, but this eighth edition, which opens at Sapporo Dome on Sunday, will involve 32 teams, including Australia and New Zealand as guests.
The OCA President added that Sapporo now had an international airport, almost 2 million citizens and was a business hub of Hokkaido, Japan and further afield.
"We have witnessed your success and you have witnessed our success. Both partners are making a success story," said Sheikh Ahmad.
The reach of the Asian Winter Games has expanded, too, he said, with Presidents of International Federations from Curling and Ice Hockey attending the event, along with IOC members from Europe and Australia.
"This is a cold city - but warm by the heart of the people of Sapporo," he added. "We feel the warmth of the human feeling between the nations here."
Sheikh Ahmad concluded that Sapporo was not only capable of hosting a successful Asian Winter Games but also the Olympic Winter Games due to the experience and facilities of the winter sports city, which organized the 1972 Winter Olympics.
The President of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Tsunekazu Takeda, said that this was the third AWG to be hosted by Sapporo after the first two editions in 1986 and 1990 and the fourth by Japan, following Aomori in 2003.
"Next year we will have the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, followed by Tokyo 2020 and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing," said Takeda. "This marks a series of Olympic Games in Asia.
"We are witnessing great development across Asia, and the competition at the 8th Asian Winter Games in Sapporo will be at a world level. We have seen the enthusiasm and love of winter sports in Sapporo and this has helped in the development of winter sports in Asia."
Sapporo mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto said he was thrilled to bring the AWG back to Sapporo for the first time in 27 years.
"During these years, Sapporo has grown to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia," he said.
The 8th AWG will run from February 19-26, with 1,200 athletes from 32 delegations competing in five sports, 11 disciplines and 64 events at 12 competition venues - 11 in Sapporo and one in Obihiro for speed skating.