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Opinion: The benefits outweigh the risks of Utah hosting another Olympics

The state should embrace the chance to bring back the magic that put Utah in the center of the world’s focus for 17 days

SHARE Opinion: The benefits outweigh the risks of Utah hosting another Olympics
Workers load giant signs on to a truck in Olympic Square in Salt Lake City the day after the closing ceremony of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics.

Workers load giant signs on to a truck in Olympic Square in Salt Lake City the day after the closing ceremony of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics on Monday, Feb. 25, 2002.

Laura Rauch, Associated Press

Anyone contemplating another Winter Olympics in Utah must first realize the risks. They are many, but added together, they don’t come close to equaling the benefits.

Bring on the Games. But do it with eyes open.

First is the weather. The planet is getting warmer, and that’s a problem for winter sports. A study published on sciencedirect.com in 2017 predicted that winter recreation seasons will be cut in half worldwide by 2050. This year’s Beijing Olympics was the first ever to rely almost entirely on human-made snow. Another study by Taylor & Francis Online predicts no former Winter Games site would have the natural snow to host an Olympics by the end of this century.

Second is politics. This year, China faces a diplomatic boycott by several nations, including the United States, although athletes have not been affected. But no one can predict the wars or international incidents that might suddenly wipe out years of preparation and expense.

The third factor is an extension of this and could include any unforeseen event, including a pandemic or an earthquake or, to a lesser extent but irritatingly possible — a temperature inversion that erases any view of the beautiful Wasatch Range. They include runaway costs and inflation. Utah almost came face to face with this in 2002, as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 briefly put the Games in question.

Yes, one could probably write a long list of potential events that could cancel or ruin the Games. They may seem scary, but they don’t amount to much.

By 2030, a generation will have passed since the 2002 Games, and so many Utahns will not have experienced the magical transformation along the Wasatch Front as the world descended, the residue of which still remains in myriad ways.

For 17 days, northern Utah was the focus of the world, from its unique culture and beautiful landscape to its population anxious to pitch in to make the Games a success.

As Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who guided the 2002 Games, told the Deseret News, he asked for 25,000 volunteers and ended up with 50,000. Less than one-half of 1% of those who sign up dropped out during the Games, and some volunteers even raised funds to help Paralympic athletes afford better equipment. The volunteers, their enthusiasm and spirit, stole the show and enhanced Utah’s standing abroad.

The Games brought Utah to a world stage it has never fully relinquished. Not only are Olympic venues still being used for competition, the Games enhanced the state’s reputation, indirectly attracting businesses and investment that fueled the fastest 10-year growth rate in the nation, according to the 2020 census. 

Fraser Bullock, head of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, believes Salt Lake City could win the bid to host the 2030 Games. The city already is the U.S. bid city. It will compete against Vancouver; Sapporo, Japan; Barcelona, Spain (and the surrounding area); and Ukraine.

As for those risks?

Many ski resorts already produce a good deal of human-made snow, with good results. If anything, Beijing has shown it can be done. 

Political turmoil always will be a factor, but the history of the Games shows it rarely puts a stop to the show. No Olympics has been canceled since 1944. The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Tokyo Games from 2020 to 2021, but the Games still went on. And Utah showed in 2002 it can host the Games at minimal cost.

You could lose a lot of sleep imagining things that could go wrong. But when looking back to 2002, the overwhelming picture that emerges is a long list of things that went exceptionally right. 

As Utah Gov. Spencer Cox told the Deseret News, “We don’t do it to gain something. We do it because it’s a good thing.”

And it’s a good thing Utah is exceptionally good at doing, which makes the prospect of another Salt Lake Olympics eight years from now truly exciting.