It looks like it’s going to be a while longer before backers of bringing another Olympics to Utah know whether they’re bidding for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games.
The hope had been that the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which chose Salt Lake City over Denver three years ago to bid on behalf of the country for an unspecified future Winter Games, would make a decision by the end of the year.
But now that’s not likely to happen until well after the 2022 Winter Games that begin in Beijing next February, said Fraser Bullock, who served as chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and is now president and CEO of the bid effort.
“We’re making progress. I believe that issue will be resolved post-Beijing, maybe in the first half of next year. That will be our target,” Bullock told reporters after Monday’s private meeting of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games’ governing board.
During the larger bid committee’s meeting at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, the CEO of the USOPC, Sarah Hirshland, said it’s still not clear the United States can hold financially successful back-to-back Olympics.
“The good news is, Salt Lake is ready. We don’t have to build anything. We don’t need to garner public support. We don’t have a lot of barriers,” Hirshland said, other than a big one — Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Summer Games.
“The barrier for Salt Lake and a Winter Games right now is just the evaluation of 18 months after a Summer Games in this country,” she told the business and community officials and athletes who serve on the bid committee.
It comes down to money, Hirshland said.
There has long been concern that a 2030 Winter Games in Salt Lake City would not only have trouble raising domestic sponsorship dollars but also hurt Los Angeles’ ability to secure enough revenue for what is a much larger and much more expensive event to host.
For the United States to carry off two Olympics in a row without spending local or state tax dollars, Hirshland said “inevitably” both would have to team up to raise revenues from the private sector.
“You have to think about revenue generation in a collaborative way,” she said. “That’s not a bad thing. It just is more complicated.”
Salt Lake City faces competition for 2030 and beyond under the International Olympic Committee’s new, less formal process for choosing a Games host, from Vancouver, Canada; Sapporo, Japan; Barcelona and the Pyrenees mountain region; and Ukraine.
Both Hirshland and Bullock said the IOC knows there’s interest in 2030. There is no timeline for the IOC to pick a site for 2030 and it’s possible multiple Winter Games could be awarded at the same time, as was done for the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games.
Utah bidders want 2030 and Bullock said while there would be challenges, “our country could be energized” by hosting another Olympics right away. The bid committee is readying budgets and contracts with venues and hotels for both 2030 and 2034.
Hirshland, who said she is now more confident about pulling off both a Summer and a Winter Games in less than two years, suggested the IOC — which, of course, shares the revenues generated by an Olympics — still might need convincing.
“If we can — which I believe we will here in short order — get the IOC really comfortable that, No. 1, the LA ’28 Games are going to be wildly successful. That has got to be their No. 1 priority, and ours,” she said.
And if that can be combined with the promise of a similarly successful Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Hirshland said, “we’re going to be really well positioned for the IOC and us to say, ‘Let’s do this.”’
But if that time crunch would have too much of an impact on the bottom line, she said, “you could see the IOC and us saying, ‘We’re better served in ’34 for these reasons.’ I will say, I was more skeptical 12 months ago than I was today about our ability to make ’30 work.”
Bullock told reporters the newly announced budget for a 2030 Winter Games — $2.2 billion in 2030 dollars — includes a $200 million contingency fund that could be tapped if domestic sponsorships don’t come in as anticipated.
That’s in addition to $250 million set aside for a legacy fund to maintain the Olympic venues first built for 2002 as well as help the Utah Sports Commission make the state an international winter sports capital.
The price tag for hosting in 2030 is about $200 million less than what it cost for the 2002 Winter Games after inflation, Bullock said. The bid budget is $2.8 million, plus an additional $1 million contingency fund, although only about $300,000 has been used so far.
Monday’s meetings follow a pair of virtual sessions with the IOC, in November and earlier this month. None of the cities bidding have advanced to the next level of the new bid process that comes after the IOC had identified preferred hosts for a specific Games.
Little was said about the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics announced by President Joe Biden to protest China’s human rights record and supported by other nations, including the United Kingdom.
Monday, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, called for a full boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in China, including by Team USA. The congressman said any participation suggests the U.S. approves of China’s actions against religious and ethnic minorities and others.
Bullock, along with bid committee chairwoman Catherine Raney Norman and a consultant, are headed to Beijing despite the boycott as future host city observers at the invitation of the IOC, something other Winter Games bidders are also expected to do.
“Our focus is on our Games,” Bullock said. “We have our head down. We’re working on that. We know there are political issues that are out there but that’s not our area. We’re just focused on preparing for a future Games.”