Canada said no to spending billions to host the 2030 Winter Games. Here’s what makes Utah’s Olympic bid different
With Vancouver out, the race is between Sapporo and Salt Lake City
While Vancouver’s hopes of hosting the 2030 Winter Games may have been dashed due to concerns by Canadian government officials about the cost to taxpayers, backers of Salt Lake City’s Olympic bid are confident that’s not going to be an issue for them.
The decision by British Columbia not to support Vancouver’s bid leaves Salt Lake City and Sapporo, Japan, still in the running for 2030. International Olympic Committee leaders could signal their choice to host as soon as December, although a final vote won’t come until next fall.
“With our bid, there is no requirement for state or local taxpayer funding,” said Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. The federal government is expected to help pay for security, just as Washington does for other major events like the Super Bowl.
All of the money needed to cover the proposed $2.2 billion budget for another Salt Lake City Games would come from private sources, primarily from the sale of broadcast rights, tickets and sponsorships, Bullock said, including tapping into the “biggest commercial market in the world” for domestic corporate sponsors.
Should the funds raised fall short, the Utah Legislature and then-Gov. Gary Herbert have already pledged in a 2020 resolution that the state intends to support taking financial responsibility for hosting the Winter Games by signing the required host city agreement with the IOC.
The chances of Utah taxpayers having to kick in funding for a Winter Games is “extremely low. I would never say zero, because nothing’s zero,” Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said. He suggested polling showing nearly 80% of Utahns back the bid reflects the same “comfort level” state officials have in the finances.
The 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City made money despite having to build costly venues including ski jumps, a bobsled, luge and skeleton track and a speed-skating oval, Adams said. “We’re in a much better position now. I can’t imagine we won’t be more successful.”
Bullock, co-founder of a Utah-based investment fund and chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games that left behind a $100 million surplus that’s been used to maintain the venues, doesn’t believe the state would have to step up with financial assistance.
“There has to be a substantial guarantor, but what we’ve done is constructed a budget where we can’t see any circumstances where that would be required,” he said, noting the “big cushion” provided by a $200 million contingency fund and $250 million set aside for post-Games legacy projects that could be used if necessary.
In addition, Bullock said $48 million has been budgeted for cancellation insurance in the case of a catastrophe, even though that cost $4 million in 2002. Contracts signed with venues and hotels allow for “flexibility,” he said, should there be a situation like the COVID-19 pandemic that delayed the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo for a year.
“In today’s world, given what we’ve seen, risk management is fundamental,” Bullock said, adding there have been discussions with IOC leaders about sharing some of the financial risks of hosting, but declined to discuss any details.
What happened to Vancouver’s bid
Vancouver’s first-ever indigenous-led bid ran into government opposition because of the need for an estimated $1.2 billion in taxpayer funds, along with what British Columbia’s minister of tourism, arts, culture and sports said was another billion dollars “in additional risk.”
The minister, Lisa Beare, told reporters, “when we measured that against our government’s priorities, we believe we need to focus on people.” Beare said in a statement the provincial government was “putting people first by focusing on the cost of living, health care, housing, public safety and building a strong work force.”
Without the support of British Columbia, there appears to be little chance Vancouver’s bid can go forward.
The overall price tag for a 2030 Winter Games in Vancouver was estimated at between $3.5 billion and $4 billion in Canadian dollars, CTV News Vancouver reported in July, the current equivalent of more than $2.5 billion to nearly $3 billion in U.S. dollars.
But the news outlet said the proposed budget outlined by leaders of the four First Nations helming the bid and the Canadian Olympic Committee did not include the costs of many essential elements, such as snow removal, temporary road closures and emergency services, including law enforcement.
The money for what would be Vancouver’s second Winter Games after hosting in 2010 was to come from a mix of public and private funding, the news outlet said, citing sources behind the financial estimate as saying for every taxpayer dollar spent by governments in Canada, $5 or $6 would come from outside sources.
Canadian Olympic Committee President Tricia Smith said at a news conference Friday the $2.2 billion in government funding that British Columbia took issue with were “preliminary numbers” that should have been discussed further, including the benefits the investment would bring.
“We certainly think it’s beneficial to bring the Games to Canada,” Smith said.
“We have an amazing opportunity in 2030 because there would be no future opportunity for Winter Games until 2034 when I imagine there would be a lot more people in the competition, we have already heard of a few of them,” she said. “In 2030 I think we have a very good chance, an excellent chance of being awarded these Games.”
Is 2030 ‘a real possibility’ for Salt Lake City?
Because of Vancouver’s struggles to secure government support, both Salt Lake City and Sapporo had been seen as frontrunners for 2030. The IOC’s decision to postpone the session where members would vote on a 2030 host from May until sometime next fall had been seen as giving the Canadian city time to win over political leaders.
Now, the IOC’s Future Host Commission will meet next month to evaluate bid cities for 2030 and report to the Switzerland-based organization’s leadership, which meets in December. It is not known if the IOC Executive Board will advance a city — or cities — to contract negotiations at that meeting under the new, less formal bid process.
When backers of Salt Lake City’s bid met with IOC President Thomas Bach last summer, they heard about the “bad feelings” caused by some of the U.S. response to Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Games given China’s human rights record.
And U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials recently made it clear they’d rather see Salt Lake City get the 2034 Winter Games because of a feared financial hit from hosting too soon after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Sapporo, host of the 1972 Winter Games, is dealing with lukewarm public support as well as the fallout from an Olympic bribery scandal involving an executive of the Tokyo Summer Games who allegedly received payments from companies wanting to become sponsors.
The Utah Senate president said the state has long been “ready, willing and able” to host another Olympics.
“When you’ve got the venues in place, that’s as ready as you can be. Willing, you’ve seen the public polls. Able, we’ll have the staff and the volunteers,” Adams said. “That makes the financial concerns probably less of an issue for Utah than they are in Vancouver.”
With what’s happening in Vancouver and Sapporo, the Senate leader said Salt Lake City may be hosting another Olympics sooner rather than later.
“Now,” he said, “2030 looks like a real possibility.”