Why Utah’s Olympic bid backers have to wait a little longer for an audience with the IOC

The Salt Lake City skyline during the 2002 Olympics.
The Salt Lake City skyline is pictured from the Triad Center on Feb. 21, 2002, during the 2002 Winter Games. Backers of Utah’s bid to bring the Winter Games back to the state in 2030 or 2034 won’t be traveling to Switzerland to sit down for the first time with International Olympic Committee officials quite as soon as they’d hoped after their meeting was pushed back to December. | Ravell Call, Deseret News

Utah officials now scheduled to travel to Switzerland in December

Backers of Utah’s bid to bring the Winter Games back to the state in 2030 or 2034 won’t be traveling to Switzerland to sit down for the first time with International Olympic Committee officials quite as soon as they’d hoped after their meeting was pushed back to December.

“It’s just part of an ongoing dialog that is very flexible,” Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said of the schedule switch to Dec. 6 from what was previously announced as late November, apparently to accommodate several participants.

Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, said the bid committee plans to provide more details Monday about the upcoming visit to IOC headquarters that follows a virtual introductory meeting earlier this month.

There are four other Winter Games bidders in talks with the IOC — Vancouver, Canada; Sapporo, Japan; Barcelona, Spain and the Pyrenees mountains; and Ukraine, where that country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, hopes to transform the Svydovets region into “the Alps of Eastern Europe.”

Utah’s scheduled meeting at the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, with the recently formed Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games is expected to lay out the organization’s new, less formal process for choosing where the Games will be held.

That process — which does not include a timetable for naming a host, traditionally done seven years before a Games — kicked off on Nov. 12, when Gov. Spencer Cox joined Bullock and USOPC Chairwoman Susanne Lyons to meet the commission members over Zoom.

“Our focus was on Utah’s exceptional preparation,” the governor said in a statement to the Deseret News. “My message was that we are forever grateful for what the Olympic movement has given to Utah and now it’s Utah’s turn to give back.”

Bullock, who, along with Steve Starks, the governor’s designee on the bid committee and his Olympic adviser, met with Cox a few days before the call to go over his talking points, praised the governor’s performance during the half-hour long virtual meeting.

“The governor was his usual enthusiastic, effusive, warm self on this call. And it was a very positive call,” Bullock said, that gave Utah’s bid team an opening to talk about “high-level elements of what the Games would look like in Utah” with the IOC.

The discussion also focused on “our strong legacy from 2002, the significant support in our community and our progress to date,” Bullock said. The bid committee is working behind the scenes on budgets for both a 2030 and a 2034 Winter Games as well as negotiating contracts to secure competition venues and hotel rooms.

The IOC said in a statement that the future host commission “was pleased to meet virtually in November with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee, as well as other national Olympic committees and regions interested in hosting the Olympic Winter Games.”

But the IOC declined to confirm which cities have had meetings with the commission, citing “the different stages of interest among the various parties engaged in these discussions” as well as the “confidentiality requested by each party on the advancement of their project.”

The new process, the IOC press office told the Deseret News, “has inspired confidence in cities and regions interested in opening noncommittal conversations about staging the Games” and is expected to reduce a price tag for bidding that had climbed to as much as $100 million by some 80%.

Utah’s effort to land the 2002 Games sparked a worldwide scandal over cash and gifts given to IOC members that helped lead to reforms in the selection process. Bullock said last summer he hoped to “set a record for the lowest Olympic bid budget ever,” spending no more than $3.8 million raised from private sources.

Although it’s been three years since the USOPC chose Salt Lake City over Denver as America’s choice to host a future Winter Games, there’s still no decision from the organization on whether the bid is for 2030 or 2034. Supporters of Utah’s bid, who say the “sooner the better,” had hoped the question would be resolved by the end of the year.

The Colorado Springs-based USPOC has been in no hurry, but is expected to hold a board meeting in Salt Lake City next month, during the U.S. short track speedskating Olympic trials set for Dec. 17-19 at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.

What’s complicating choosing 2030 over 2034 is that another U.S. city, Los Angeles, is hosting the 2028 Summer Games. Back-to-back Olympics in the same country are viewed as a hard sell that could hurt domestic sponsorships.

Ed Hula, founder and editor emeritus of Around the Rings, a longtime worldwide Olympic news source that started in Atlanta and is now based in Buenos Aires, said the U.S. and international Olympic committees may be working out a way to market a pair of Games in the United States as an “Olympic juggernaut” to sponsors.

“Maybe they’re putting their heads together to try to find a way to make this a win-win where we have a super-stupendous package for advertisers,” he said, some sort of deal that maximizes the Olympics being in the United States for both the 2028 Summer Games and the 2030 Winter Games.

The IOC, Hula said, may not take too long to award not only 2030, but also 2034, now that several seemingly viable candidates have stepped forward. He said the race appears now to be between Salt Lake City and Vancouver for 2030, with Sapporo, struggling to cut 20% of its proposed Games budget, a possibility for 2034.

Like Salt Lake City, Vancouver and Sapporo previously hosted Winter Games — Vancouver in 2010 and Sapporo in 1972. Barcelona is also a former Olympic host, of the 1992 Summer Games. Ukraine briefly bid for the 2022 Winter Games that went to Beijing.

Salt Lake City may have an advantage, Hula said, because it’s “kind of plug and play ready. That’s going to be really attractive to them in terms of being able to put on a Games that aren’t a worry” after the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo were delayed a year by COVID-19 and the controversies surrounding Beijing over China’s human rights record.

“It’s not going to take long for them to figure out which one is the best one to play ball with,” he said, predicting both 2030 and 2034 could be awarded at the same time, just as was done four years ago when the 2024 Summer Games went to Paris and Los Angeles got the 2028 Summer Games.

Vancouver has yet to be formally selected to bid on behalf of Canada, said Emilio Rivero, director of stakeholder relations for Vancouver 2030, described as a “grassroots, not-for-profit society dedicated to exploring the viability” of bringing the Winter Games back to British Columbia.

Any advantage the Canadian city has for 2030 “could be lost,” Rivero said, adding, “we are a bit concerned about waiting, the waiting game that is happening at the moment.” Support in British Columbia for a bid has fallen from 60% in January to 43% in October, according to a poll cited in a Business in Vancouver story.

Rivero said Salt Lake City is more than just Vancouver’s biggest competitor for another Winter Games.

“I think having the Games on our side of the world is good for everybody,” he said. “We’re sister cities. We’re so close to each other. … Whether it’s 2030 or 2034, we feel we are pushing for you guys, too, to get a good sense from the IOC, to get either one or the other.”

Lisa Riley Roche

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