Will Vancouver mayor’s stance hurt Salt Lake City’s hopes for another Olympics?

The mayor of Vancouver, Canada — one of three likely competitors to a possible 2030 Winter Games bid by Salt Lake City — says he won’t get behind an attempt to bring the Olympics back unless indigenous people are put in charge.

The Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, the three Indigenous First Nations whose traditional territory includes Vancouver, would have to head the Olympic bid committee as a condition for his support, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a speech last month that’s now getting national attention in Canada.

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Salt Lake City is the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s choice to bid for a future Winter Games, but no decision has been made whether that will be for the 2030 Winter Games, the next to be awarded by the International Olympic Committee, or beyond.

Sapporo, Japan, is already bidding for 2030, but the other cities also seen in the running, Vancouver and Barcelona and the Grand Pyrenees, have postponed making a final decision due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games, all of the potential bidders have been the site of past Olympics.

It’s not clear whether having indigenous leadership would give a competitive advantage to Vancouver, host of the 2010 Winter Games.

“I don’t know. It ticks a box but I’m not sure. Yes, the IOC wants all those things but they also want a good sporting event. That’s what they’ll be looking at first,” said Ed Hula, founder and editor of Around the Rings, an Atlanta-based online Olympic news source with an international following.

Hula said Salt Lake City’s bidders shouldn’t feel like they have to respond. Currently, there are no Native Americans serving on the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, but Native Americans were involved in preparations for 2002 and featured in the opening ceremonies at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.

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“It doesn’t seem to be any big deal that they would have to react to, or demonstrate otherwise their kinship with Native Americans,” Hula said. “Salt Lake City did that in 2002 and would be expected to be sensitive along those lines for any other future bid.”

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake bid effort, said it’s still early but a recently formed host venue communities committee will reach out to Native Americans, just as he and other organizers of the 2002 Winter Games did.

Bullock said it’s up to each city seeking the Olympics to determine how the bid leadership should be structured.

“I think the most important element is engaging the various constituent groups so they feel included,” he said. “Whether it is indigenous tribes, whether it is people of different ethnicities and different religions, making sure that all of the different groups have an opportunity to be included and participate.”

The Vancouver mayor, who did not respond to an email request from the Deseret News for comment, suggested discussions are already underway about indigenous leadership.

“I have talked to the nations about this and there’s interest there,” he said during his annual State of the City speech, according to a report in the Vancouver Sun that’s now been picked up by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The CBC reported this week Khelsilem, a Squamish Nation Council spokesman who goes by a single name, wasn’t aware of any formal talks about leading a bid, including with neighboring nations.

“The reality is that something like hosting an Olympics requires a significant amount of investment and support from both the federal and provincial governments,” Khelsilem told the network. “While there are a number of reported advantages, there’s also a number of drawbacks.

“I think a lot of that workflow needs to be figured out, especially in the context of the challenges that we’re going to face over the next decade and the challenges that we’re facing on a number of fronts.”

Another Squamish Nation leader, Chief Gibby Jacob, told the CBC “there’s a lot to be gained by being involved for our people.”

But the hereditary chief also raised a question about taking a leadership role.

“I don’t think that our nations, given what we have as far as leadership resources and how fast they seem to change, would be able to take things right from scratch to completion,” he said.

Earlier in November, Stewart joined a majority of the Vancouver City Council earlier in November in a vote to hold off until next year on deciding whether to pursue a bid. A report on a potential bid by the city that hosted the 2010 Winter Games is expected in early 2021.

“I do think the 2010 Olympics were a good boost for Vancouver and put us on the map,” the mayor said in his speech.

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“But it’s pretty tough times to talk about that kind of investment when we’re in such an economic period of uncertainty. We should focus on recovering from COVID. When we’re all feeling more confident then I think it’s time to have that discussion.”

Still, talking about advancing the role of Indigenous people keeps the bid in the news and may help build backing. Two years ago, more than 56% of the residents of another Canadian city, Calgary, rejected bidding for the 2026 Winter Games in an election.

Bullock, who was born in Canada and served on the IOC’s coordination commission for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, said he saw firsthand “the fabulous job” done by organizers.

“Notably, they did an excellent job of integrating the Indigenous tribes. They worked very hard, right from the outset. They were involved and part of the process,” he said. “The Olympics has the opportunity of bringing people together in a unifying way.”

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