Why Utah’s governor is ‘really confident’ about another Olympics

The Olympic cauldron from the 2002 Winter Games is pictured at the University of Utah.

The Olympic cauldron from the 2002 Winter Games is pictured at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Gov. Spencer Cox could not have been more enthusiastic Tuesday about Utah’s chances of hosting another Olympics following a critical presentation to an International Olympic Committee commission charged with recommending which cities are prepared to be future hosts.

While the governor said there were “no overt signs” the IOC is leaning towards choosing Salt Lake City over Sapporo, Japan, to host the 2030 Winter Games, “we feel really confident. Again, there are two open spots, 2030 and 2034. We feel very confident that we will get one of those spots. The question is, which spot.”

Cox, along with Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and officials from the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee had 50 minutes to make their case during the virtual meeting with the Switzerland-based IOC’s Future Host Commission.

His role, the governor said, was to talk up the success of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City as well as why the state continues to be a place that will “make the Olympic movement proud.” The reaction at Tuesday’s meeting easily topped a previous virtual pitch he and others made to IOC leaders, Cox said.

“This was our best meeting by far. The questions were just incredibly positive. The presentation was very well put together,” the governor told reporters after an unrelated event at the City Creek Center, adding that bidders heard more compliments than questions. “It could not have gone better.”

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the bid committee, said after the virtual meeting he’s “hopeful” Utah will host again in 2030 or 2034. He praised Cox’s exuberance during the presentation, which was limited to 50 minutes including questions and answers.

“The governor is so enthusiastic it just exudes over the Zoom screen. We could all feel his passion for Utah and for hosting the Games,” Bullock said, adding it was important to showcase support from both state and city leaders. Mendenhall spoke about the importance of sustainability, and the opportunities another Olympics could provide.

Salt Lake City is bidding for both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games, but U.S. Olympic officials have said they’d rather wait until 2034 because Los Angeles has already been selected as the site of the 2028 Summer Games. and domestic sponsorship revenues could be hurt by back-to-back Games in the U.S.

Bullock said the bid committee is aligned with the USOPC’s preference for hosting in 2034 “for the obvious reason, but we are enthusiastic about any Games, ‘30 or ‘34, and that was made clear to them today.” He declined to say how much discussion there was about 2030 versus 2034 at the meeting.

The governor said there shouldn’t be any question of Utah’s willingness to host either Winter Games.

“We are willing to do whatever is best for the Games. If that’s 2030, we will host in 2030. If that’s 2034, we will host in 2034. That was our message to them. I think it was a message that was very well received. It’s something they’re excited about,” Cox said.

Although “there are challenges with ‘28 being here in L.A.,” the governor said the USOPC talked about the “new and unique” opportunities that could come with hosting two Olympics in a row, “with potential advertisers to have package deals and maybe to bring in new and additional advertisers.”

Sapporo’s bid is dealing with the impact of a growing Olympic bribery scandal in Japan that involves payments made to an executive of the 2020 Summer Games held in Tokyo last year. That could make it difficult for the IOC leaders to make a decision soon on whether to advance a city — or cities — to the next stage of bidding.

The commission is set to make a recommendation on a 2030 host to members of the powerful IOC Executive Committee before they meet in early December. Earlier this year, that’s when IOC leaders were expected to make their pick for 2030.

But it may take longer now that the session where all IOC members are expected to vote on a 2030 host was postponed until next September or October. Bullock said a decision by the IOC leaders probably won’t come until sometime during the first quarter of 2023.

Cox said given the IOC’s new, less formal bid process that does not specify timelines for a city to be chosen, “we’re all kind of feeling our way through that. But we feel confident by the end of next year, we’ll know where we are.”

The governor said he doesn’t know whether Japan’s bid scandal is affecting Sapporo’s chances. The Japanese city has also hosted a Winter Games before, in 1972.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate. We have friends in Sapporo. Again, the Olympic movement is very close all across the world. That’s between the Japanese delegation and the IOC to figure out those issues,” Cox said. “Our job is just to make sure Utah is ready and put forward our best foot. We were able to do that today.”

He said the commission, headed by Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu, was “very impressed” with a recent Deseret News/University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics poll that showed 79% of Utahns back bringing another Olympics to the state.

“It’s hard to get 79% of people in any country, in any state anywhere to agree on anything,” the governor said. “That really shows the passion behind our movement. We expected a lot of questions today. Mostly what we got were compliments. There were a few questions, but easy questions that we were ready and willing to answer.”

Lisa Riley Roche

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