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In our opinion: Make potential Olympic bid, Sports Commission, accountable

FILE: The Salt Lake International Airport shows off the Olympic rings in 2002.
FILE: The Salt Lake International Airport shows off the Olympic rings in 2002.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Utah leaders announced their intentions to mount a potential bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics back in 2012.

While the Legislature last year failed to pass a resolution in favor of the bid, the matter is sure to come up again. Given the scandal that nearly overshadowed the 2002 games, any future Utah bid must be conducted honestly and transparently.

To assure this, the Utah Sports Commission should be accountable.

That will require reversing a 2015 legislative revision exempting it from a complete financial accounting.

The Olympics are expensive, as are Olympic bids. But the costs must not include the state’s reputation for honesty and integrity.

The Utah Sports Commission is set up — and funded — to attract national and international sports to Utah and “to be a catalyst for Utah in its Olympic legacy efforts.” Last legislative session it was proposed that the Commission would also “oversee” any future bid for the Winter Games.

In 2015, however, the state passed legislation amending HB22 such that the Sports Commission would no longer have to give a “complete" accounting of how it spends public funds provided from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

This change should be reversed.

Given the Beehive State’s history of scandal surrounding Olympic bids, it is all the more imperative that the Commission guard against even the semblance of impropriety.

Utahns understand that attracting international sporting events — especially the Olympics — requires funds and a fair amount of schmoozing. However, lest we forget the state’s history, it was furtive spending on International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegates that left Salt Lake’s first Olympic bid mired in scandal and facing accusations of federal racketeering.

Moreover, recent allegations regarding the IOC have not helped the perception that it has a pay-to-play culture. This summer, for example, the Japanese Olympic Committee formed a commission to look into seven-figure payments linked to the son of a former IOC member around the time the 2020 games were awarded to Tokyo.

As one commentator from the National Review put it: “I’d say it’s a safe bet that, any given Olympic year, the country that has been chosen as host is the country with the largest slush fund.”

The best way to guard against such accusations in the Beehive State is for the Utah Sports Commission to provide a “complete” accounting of its publicly-funded expenditures to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which is subject to legislative audit.

The solution may lie with recently re-elected State Senator Curt Bramble (R-Provo), who sits on the executive committee of the Sports Commission and campaigned on a platform “demanding transparency from government.”

The 2002 Olympics presented a remarkable opportunity to showcase Utah to the world. Though the oft-touted financial benefits of the games were likely oversold, the community unity and international goodwill it fostered are not fully quantified by dollar figures.

We support the work of the Sports Commission and a potential bid for the Olympics, yet Utah taxpayers deserve to know that attempts to win over the International Olympic Committee and other delegates will not cause a collective déjà vu. Accountability and transparency are the strongest ways to allay these concerns.