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Is a 2030 Winter Games bid for Utah now more likely?

New commitment made by U.S. Olympic officials

The closing ceremony of the 2002 Olympics takes place at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The closing ceremony of the 2002 Olympics takes place at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City in 2002. For the first time, U.S. Olympic leaders have formally committed to the possibility of Salt Lake City hosting the 2030 Winter Games.
Peter Chudleigh, for the Deseret News

For the first time, U.S. Olympic leaders have formally committed to the possibility of Salt Lake City hosting the 2030 Winter Games.

But the resolution unanimously approved by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee board during a meeting in Salt Lake City makes it clear that’s not a done deal, spelling out that talks are only toward the Games returning to Utah “as early as 2030.”

That means Salt Lake City could instead end up bidding for the 2034 Winter Games, if hosting back-to-back Olympics in the United States is seen as damaging to the bottom line of the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Still, Fraser Bullock, head of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, was pleased with what he said was fair to describe as incremental progress toward bringing the Olympics back to the state.

“I think this resolution indicates how serious we are,” said Bullock, who served as chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. “It calls out 2030 as a distinct possibility.”

And it’s apparently what the International Olympic Committee, the Switzerland-based organization that ultimately selects the hosts of Summer and Winter Games, wanted to hear from the United States.

Under a new, less formal bid process, the IOC engages in three phases of what it terms “dialog” with would-be host cities. For Salt Lake City to be advanced to the final “targeted” phase, the IOC needs to have a commitment for a specific date.

IOC President Thomas Bach hinted last week it was time for a decision to be made. The IOC leader from Germany participated briefly in a virtual meeting between the IOC and officials from the Utah bid committee and the USOPC.

Bach told reporters that while he saw “great unity and enthusiasm” from Utah and U.S. Olympic officials, talks “will continue to see when Salt Lake City would like to enter into a closer dialog with the IOC. I think there, they are also looking for our advice there.”

The USOPC resolution, passed Thursday and announced Friday, may settle the issue.

It states a “commitment to advance dialog in alignment with LA28, with the IOC and future host commission towards hosting a future Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games as early as 2030,” according to the USOPC.

The resolution also formally recognizes “the tremendous progress made towards hosting the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, the strength of Utah’s vision, and the pubic support this effort.”

Now, the United States’ Winter Games candidate is “completely in the process,” USOPC Chairwoman Susanne Lyons told reporters during a conference call Friday when asked if further action would be needed for Salt Lake City’s bid to advance.

“We are fully in consideration. We don’t have to do anything else,” Lyons said. “The dialog will just continue to the point where hopefully all parties involved will think this is the right answer.”

Bullock called the USOPC resolution “an important step toward the targeted dialog phase and an important signal to the IOC” and the organization’s future host commission sifting through Winter Games bids.

So far, at least four other cities and countries are competing with Salt Lake City for a Winter Games — Vancouver, Canada; Sapporo, Japan; Barcelona, Spain, and the Pyrenees mountain region; and Ukraine.

None have reached the targeted level with the IOC — yet. There is no timeline for the IOC to choose a host for 2030 under the new bid process, nor any prohibition against naming the hosts of multiple Games at the same time.

‘Our hat is in the ring’

Until now, the USOPC has been in no hurry to get behind the 2030 versus the 2034 Winter Games because another American city, Los Angeles, is already set to host the 2028 Summer Games.

Even when the USOPC picked Salt Lake City over Denver three years ago as America’s choice for a Winter Games, it was for an unspecified “future” date. Utah has been pushing for another Olympics for nearly a decade.

Lyons said she knows “you’re very eager here in Utah to know that we’re going forward.” But she said the bid process is “quite different” from the past, when cities would “wave a lot of flags” after announcing they were going for a specific Winter Games.

“We’ve already been into, deeply into, the first and second phases of that. We’ve had official meetings with the IOC just as recently as last week and the week before,” Lyons said, citing Gov. Spencer Cox’s and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s involvement.

She said the USOPC is “really making all efforts to look at the feasibility of 2030.”

But the potential financial hit of the United States hosting the 2028 Summer Games followed by the Winter Games less than two years later — especially when it comes to raising money from domestic sponsors — remains a concern.

On Monday, Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOPC, told the Utah bid committee the decision comes down to money. Hirshland said ensuring both Games are a financial success would require thinking “about revenue generation in a collaborative way.”

Los Angeles organizers, however, already have several key domestic sponsorships in place, including a $400 million deal announced last year making Delta Air Lines the official airlines of both the 2028 Summer Games and the USOPC.

Lyons said “it’s very important that we align with our partners” in Los Angeles in considering a 2030 bid. “This would be the first time that any country tried to put two Games back-to-back. It’s quite complicated from a commercial and logistical point of view.”

That means, she said, “we’ll have to work together to just ensure that’s a doable thing. But we are very much in the process. Our hat is in the ring. And if we can make it work for 2030 on all levels, I think no one would be happier than all of us.”

‘This is the long game’

Bullock said nothing changes at this point when it comes to planning for both a 2030 and a 2034 Winter Games. He said earlier this week the price tag for 2030 would be $2.2 billion in 2030 dollars, including a $200 million contingency fund.

“It still has to work. Details need to be worked out. But it is positive momentum to the possibility of 2030. It really is,” Bullock said, adding, “This is the long game.”

The resolution came after the Utah bid committee made its first presentation to the USOPC board. During the closed meeting Thursday, Bullock said the 1 1/2-hour discussion included questions about the economics of hosting.

Lyons endorsed the bid committee’s plan to send a delegation to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing next February as observers despite a diplomatic boycott of the event by the United States and other countries to protest China’s human rights record.

“I think it’s really important for potential future hosts to understand how Games are run so it’s traditional for candidates for future Games to go,” Lyons told reporters, no matter where they’re being held.

“I think it is appropriate,” she said of the bid committee’s trip at the invitation of the IOC. “None of us are trying to be in the middle of issues that really should better be handled between governmental agencies.”

USOPC officials were scheduled Friday to visit Utah Olympic Park near Park City for bobsled rides before heading to the Utah Olympic Oval to attend the short track speedskating Olympic trials.