SALT LAKE CITY — A whopping 89 percent of Utahns support bidding for another Salt Lake Olympics, according to a new poll released Tuesday that was commissioned for the state's Olympic Exploratory Committee.
"It sends a message we are ready, willing and able," said Jeff Robbins, Utah Sports Commission president and CEO, a co-chairman of the committee considering a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics.
Robbins said he believes there would likely be even more backing for a new bid if a poll were to be conducted during the 2018 Winter Games that begin Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
But he said the committee didn't want to wait and decided to "get a feel right now" for whether Utahns want to try for a second Olympics after hosting the 2002 Winter Games.
A total of 600 Utahns were polled statewide by Dan Jones & Associates Nov. 14-21 about whether they wanted to try for another Olympics after hosting the 2002 Winter Games. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Pollster Dan Jones said he was surprised at the level of support.
"That's a mandate. People have such good feelings about the last one that we had that I think they look forward to it again," Jones said, although he cautioned future results may well be tempered as details emerge.
Still, he said, Utahns weren't as supportive of the efforts leading up to 2002, particularly after an international scandal erupted over the cash, gifts and other incentives Salt Lake City provided to International Olympic Committee members.
"When we look at what happened last time, we went through a set of challenges that are about as difficult as anybody can face," said Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer of the 2002 Games and also a committee co-chairman.
Now, Bullock said, Utahns have the experience of seeing an Olympics come together successfully, just months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks against the United States.
"We are much more confident walking into this situation than we were back then," he said. "We know we can do this."
The poll results were released after members of the committee heard an upbeat report on Utah's chances of winning another Winter Games at their first meeting Monday.
"It's still early, but we have momentum and we're on a good track," Bullock told the committee made up of athletes, business leaders and government officials including Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
Bullock said there are a number of cities interested in hosting a Winter Games, including both Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area in the United States, but all face issues Salt Lake City doesn't have, such as having to build costly competition venues.
He said Salt Lake City needs to focus on a bid for the 2030 Winter Games, because Los Angeles was recently selected to host the 2028 Summer Games and would have to share domestic sponsorship dollars if there was an American 2026 host.
But the IOC broke precedent by awarding two Summer Games at the same time, to Los Angeles and to Paris in 2024, something they might do again for the 2026 and 2030 Winter Games.
Bullock said Salt Lake City needs to be ready to step up if no serious contender emerges for 2026, as long as the financial issues can be worked out with Los Angeles and the United States Olympic Committee and the IOC.
However, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, asked whether Salt Lake City should "be a little more aggressive about 2026 or do we play the bashful bride," given the city's strengths as a bidder.
The answer, Bullock said, will depend on the bottom line because the partnership between the cities hosting the 2026 and 2028 Olympics would mean a signficant drop in revenue that would have to be made up by cutting spending.
"We do not want to put on Games if they're going to be in the red," he said. "We want a surplus."
For 2026, Bullock said the Swiss city of Sion "would be the obvious choice. It's a great area. But they have many political challenges and it's questionable whether they move forward."
He said Sion, a finalist for the 2002 Winter Games, still hasn't lined up enough votes to secure $1 billion needed from the Swiss government, although a referendum on the bid is planned for next June.
Also in the mix is Calgary, Canada, where the City Council just approved spending an additional $1 million on a bid despite concerns information had been withheld that was critical of the potential economic impact.
Sapporo, Japan, which like Calgary has previously hosted a Winter Games, just announced interest in going after another Olympics, even though it would be the fourth in a row in Asia. Stockholm, Sweden, is also considering a bid.
"There may be a couple of candidates. There may be no candidates," Bullock said.
The committee is expected to make a recommendation to Utah leaders by the end of January 2018. It is up to the USOC to decide whether to advance an American candidate to the IOC.