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Another Olympics? This time, Utah should be making demands on the IOC

A view of downtown Salt Lake City as it appeared during the 2002 Olympics.
A view of downtown Salt Lake City as it appeared during the 2002 Olympics.
Courtesy of Steve Greenwood

SALT LAKE CITY — If the current forecast holds, the temperature in Salt Lake City will be 60 degrees Friday, the day the Winter Olympics formally begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Imagine if Utahns were sweating, perhaps literally, over their own opening ceremonies right now. We may know what that feels like in eight or 12 years.

Utah lawmakers are rallying behind a joint resolution with a bunch of “whereas-es” about the state’s Olympic legacy and its stellar performance as host of the 2002 Games, ending with a big “therefore” in support of being able to nab either the 2026 or 2030 games. This unanimously passed a committee hearing Friday afternoon, with no dissent.

And with help, no doubt, from a ventilation system that kept things from getting too stuffy in the hearing room.

I don’t want to focus too much on the weather. Even the Legislature can’t do much about that. Let’s focus instead on other storm clouds — the legal kind — that are brewing.

State lawmakers sound a bit too eager in their resolution. Sure, Utah has kept up many of its venues from ’02 and has proved it can host the Games with minimum costs. Yes, this is a place the International Olympic Committee ought to be eager to revisit.

But that puts the state in a position of strength.

Utah’s leaders don’t need to sound like a bunch of country bumpkins willing to do whatever is necessary to bring the Games back. We’ve done this before, and nearly got badly burned. This time, Utah should be the one setting some conditions.

To put it bluntly, we should demand that the IOC demonstrates it has rid itself of the kinds of shenanigans that led to the bid scandal that nearly derailed the last Olympics here.

There is ample reason to question whether that has happened.

Late last week, the New York Times reported that the Justice Department has launched a sweeping investigation into alleged international sports corruption, including probes into the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee.

Prosecutors have asked the IOC for emails, texts, other notes and contracts dating back five years.

Much of this investigation seems to be focused on the Summer Games and track and field’s governing body. Longtime IOC member Lamine Diack is under detention in France, the Times said, under accusations he accepted bribes to cover up an alleged Russian doping scheme.

Brazilian officials have arrested Carlos Arthur Nuzman, who headed that country’s Olympic committee leading up to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. He is under suspicion of bribing IOC members to secure the bid.

Sound familiar?

Remember, too, how the Sochi Games in 2014 went from a budget of $12 billion to more than $51 billion, with no one quite sure where it all went.

And don’t forget that Oslo, Norway, dropped out of consideration for the 2022 Games, in part because of a long list of demands from the IOC, including the construction of special highway lanes dedicated to IOC officials.

Just like many of you, I have fond memories from ’02 and would love to see the Wasatch Front host the world again. But in light of all this, how about a resolution that includes a few more “whereas-es” about the ’02 bid scandal and all the allegations that have swirled around other Games since then? How about some “therefores” resolving that Utah won’t make its world-class venues available to the Olympics again unless the IOC demonstrates it is free from corruption and that fair play takes precedence over everything else?

Sure, the weather is a concern, particularly if the long-term trends toward drier and warmer winters continue.

Big resorts will insist they can make enough artificial snow to keep events humming. Integrity and honesty, however, can’t be faked, nor should anyone here pretend it isn’t an issue. Utah, of all places, is in a position to demand that those things take center stage.