SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of Utah’s effort to bring the Winter Games back to the state are seeking help from national and international Olympic officials to make it less risky to host again in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that delayed the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo for a year.
But the head of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games wasn’t ready to say much Tuesday about the request, made in a letter to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach formalizing their interest in another Winter Games, likely in 2030 or 2034.
“I think our focus is really just trying to understand, with our partner, what the world looks like today — it is a new world, it’s a different world — and how we should approach it,” said Fraser Bullock, the committee’s president and CEO, adding there are lessons to be learned from Tokyo’s experience.
He declined to say whether Utah hopes the financial risks will be shared by the national and international Olympic organizations, unlike when Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Games. Then, it was the state that indemnified the Salt Lake City Olympics against any losses.
It’s clear, however, the increased risk this time around is a concern. Salt Lake City was chosen by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee in December 2018 as the country’s choice to bid for an unspecified future Winter Games, but there is still no timeline for deciding which Olympics will be pursued.
During Tuesday’s virtual meeting of the full committee — the first since it kicked off in February — Bullock listed the reasons for bidding again, concluding that “within the context of COVID and Tokyo, we want to make sure we’re doing this in such a way that we minimize risk so that we have no negative impact on our taxpayers.”
The committee’s Oct. 30 letter to the IOC president goes further.
“One of the areas that requires deep collaboration with the IOC and (United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee) is the area of risk mitigation. While risk was always part of the planning for hosting Olympic and Paralympic Games, the risk awareness of what could happen has risen to a new level, which affects all parties,” the letter states.
Bach did not address the issue in his response.
He did note the 2002 Games, held only months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, “took place during challenging times for the world. The Games brought hope to all of us, with athletes coming together in peace” and praised the level of public and political support for another bid.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who did not seek reelection this year after more than a decade in office, said the message to the IOC is that “there is no place better prepared, and I believe that to my soul,” or more capable of hosting another Winter Games.
The governor praised the legacy of what he said has been described as the best-ever Winter Games, including attracting athletes to train in the state at the facilities built for the Olympics that continue to host international competitions and the “welcoming spirit” of Utahns.
“We have a lot to be grateful for. I certainly do,” the governor said, including the people around him during his time in office. “That same spirit of collaboration and cooperation is what’s going to make us excel and have the opportunity to host the Winter Olympic Games once again.”
Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, was also upbeat.
“Frankly, it makes it quite easy for me to have a partner like Salt Lake and the state of Utah as we think about a winter bid because there is nowhere in the world better positioned and better equipped to host a Winter Games than right here,” she said. “That makes things pretty nice and easy for me and I’m grateful for it.”
Hirshland said the postponement of the Tokyo Games “gave us the gift of time” to better prepare mental health resources, athlete marketing, adaptations to policies on protests and demonstrations as well as be ready for an event that no doubt will be different than past Olympics.
She spoke of the upcoming 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles and “ultimately hosting the world for the Winter Games again in partnership with all of you. We will do both and we will do them incredibly successfully and we know that’s in our future.”
While Hirshland said there’s been “a tremendous amount of work” done for another bid, she stopped short of specifics.
“Let me assure you, we are not missing any opportunities as a timeline around a bid remains a bit uncertain and frankly, likely a bit delayed over what might have been possible due to the postponement of the Tokyo Games and the COVID realities being faced, not only by all of us but by the International Olympic Committee,” she said.
“No need to be concerned about timing. We are on track. We are well positioned,” Hirshland assured the committee, and “very clear about our motivation and our intentions. We’re doing all the things we need to be doing to put ourselves in position to be successful with that bid when the right time comes.”
The committee’s chairwoman, Cindy Crane, ended the meeting by telling the committee that “we are definitely positioned strong in our starting gates. I’m very excited with the momentum that we’re gaining and where we’re going to go from here.” She reminded the committee that until a bid is announced, their work is largely attending meetings.
Crane told reporters that the reality is, with “all that the IOC is handling” with readying the next Summer Games in 2021 and the next Winter Games in Beijing just a year later, “we fully expect the timing will be delayed” for choosing future hosts.
Under a new IOC bid process, cities enter into an informal dialog about hosting. The letter sent to the IOC, signed by Crane, Bullock, Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, begins that dialog. Crane said the committee is not setting “any hard and fast deadlines.”
Other cities around the world that have expressed interest in hosting the next Winter Games to be awarded by the IOC include Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, Canada; and Barcelona and the Pyrenees Mountain region of Spain; although the pandemic appears to have put the Canadian and Spanish bids on hold for now.
Bullock said there have already been discussions about the “pluses and minuses” of 2030 and 2034, including hosting right after another Olympics in the United States, something that could impact sponsorship revenues and is “certainly one of the factors we’re considering.”
Last month, Bullock said after a meeting of the committee’s governing board that the price tag for hosting another Olympics would increase from the $1.35 billion estimate made two years ago, in 2018 dollars. Inflation alone would add at least $400 million and the impact of the pandemic is also adding to the bottom line.
The added expenses due to COVID-19 include an expected hike in the cost of cancellation or postponement insurance beyond what was anticipated to amount to $4 million in today’s dollars. In 2002, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee spent about $2.5 million on a cancellation policy that would have provided $150 million.