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Utah’s Olympic bidders are confident another Winter Games is coming. But when?

Both Sapporo and Salt Lake City expected to advance to next stage of bidding for 2030 Winter Games

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The Utah Olympic Oval speedskating complex in Kearns, Utah.

The Utah Olympic Oval speedskating complex in Kearns is pictured on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert asked the question everyone attending Tuesday’s meeting of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games wanted an answer to — are the chances of Salt Lake City hosting the 2030 Winter Games better now that Sapporo, Japan, is the only competition?

The bid committee’s president and CEO, Fraser Bullock, expressed confidence the Olympics are coming back to Utah, the site of the 2002 Winter Games. But he said that even with Vancouver, Canada, now out of the running, that still might not be in 2030.

“Obviously, with fewer cities competing, it opens up more opportunity for us. But I don’t know whether that’s in 2030 or ’34,” Bullock said. “We’ll just have to see how the (International Olympic Committee) sorts that out. But we feel confident and hopeful that we’ll get one of those two Games.”

The virtual public meeting of the bid committee’s larger group of community, sport and business leaders came just days after government officials in British Columbia said they couldn’t commit to spending more than $1 billion from the province’s taxpayers to host the 2030 Winter Games in Vancouver, effectively ending the Canadian bid.

That leaves only Salt Lake City and Sapporo in a race that won’t be formally decided until the fall of 2023, although IOC leaders could make their choice clear as soon as December by advancing one of the contenders to the contract negotiation stage under the new, less formal bid process.

Not mentioned in the bid committee’s discussion Tuesday was the suggestion by some Olympic observers that Sapporo remains the front-runner for 2030 despite the fallout from an Olympic bribery scandal involving an executive from the 2020 Summer Games held last year in Tokyo, Japan.

Utah’s bid was touted by Bullock as strong because the state can claim the youngest population in the U.S., a vibrant economy and dynamic technology sector, some ambitious sustainability goals, an outdoor lifestyle, and lots of enthusiasm for another Olympics, measured nearly 80% in a recent Deseret News/University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

Bullock said he expects both Salt Lake City and Sapporo will be asked to enter what the IOC calls the “targeted dialog” phase of bidding, either when the IOC Executive Board meets in early December or possibly in the first quarter of 2023.

He told reporters later that advancing both cities would give the IOC leaders a better opportunity to “assess the strengths of their bids and also for some risk management because we’re still a long ways from a bid being awarded.”

The next stage of bidding requires “a very much engaged process of putting a really detailed bid together with all of the guarantees, all of the contracts, all of the pieces, to see if the city or the cities can put those together” for 2030, Bullock said.

One of those pieces that the bid committee is still putting together is a joint marketing agreement with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee that selected Salt Lake City over Denver nearly four years ago to bid on behalf of the country for a future Winter Games.

Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOPC, said during the public meeting that the agreement was being finalized. USOPC officials are in Utah to work on the agreement and meet with political leaders “to help them understand how committed the USOPC continues to be” toward the bid, Bullock said.

In September, the USOPC made it clear the 2034 Winter Games are preferable to Salt Lake City hosting just 18 months after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles because of the feared financial impact on domestic sponsorships, a key source of revenue for both Team USA and Games organizers.

Bullock told reporters most of any impact would be on Salt Lake City’s Games, but said that had already been factored into the proposed $2.2 billion budget that does not include any state or local tax dollars. He said ensuring the success of the much larger and potentially more profitable 2028 Summer Games has to take top priority.

“L.A. has to be successful. Their marketing program comes first. They’re already working on it. We respect that,” Bullock said, adding that if Salt Lake City is awarded the 2030 Winter Games, “we’ll piggyback off that in the appropriate time frame.”

The final vote on the 2030 host is set for an IOC session postponed recently from May until sometime in the fall. Although the new bid process allows multiple Games to be awarded at the same time, IOC President Thomas Bach has ruled out a decision on 2034 until after his term ends three years from now.

Herbert, who helped oversee the effort to bring another Olympics to the state during more than a decade serving as governor, seemed pleased with the bid committee’s progress after an update that stressed Salt Lake City is ready to host in either 2030 or 2034.

“I think we are positioned very well,” Herbert said before asking about the impact of Vancouver’s departure.

Bullock, chief operating officer of the last Olympics in Utah two decades ago, said he’s learned bids are “always dynamic. Things always change. People may leave, but people may enter as well. So our strategy is just to put our heads down (and) work hard to put our best bid together that’s possible.”