U.S. Olympic officials Monday backed both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games sites being named at the same time under possible new changes to the bid process, expressing enthusiasm for Salt Lake City’s chances of hosting again.
But during a call with the news media, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland stopped short of backing Salt Lake City as a permanent host under a possible rotation of the Winter Games.
The comments come after last week’s surprise announcement by the International Olympic Committee that a final decision on the 2030 host won’t be made next year after all because more time is needed to examine the effects of climate change on the Winter Games.
IOC President Thomas Bach said there now could be a dual award of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games — something he had opposed — “to win some time to then establish a sound rotation system” for future Winter Games.
Before the IOC adopted a new, less formal bid process, hosts were named seven years in advance. No timetable has been set for the IOC to choose between Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada, as well as any new contenders that may surface.
Bach, who had previously ruled out a dual award because his term is ending and he didn’t want to bind his successor to a 2034 site, said it would be “too late” to wait until a new president is in place in 2026.
Both Hirshland and outgoing USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons were upbeat Monday about the upended selection process, saying Salt Lake City’s bid was discussed during the Colorado Springs-based organization’s final board meeting of the year.
“We feel we are in an excellent position moving forward,” Lyons said, noting the USOPC is “still very excited” about Salt Lake City’s bid and is “perfectly comfortable” with the changes announced by the IOC.
Hirshland went further, saying she was “incredibly, incredibly encouraged” by the changes.
Would Salt Lake City be part of a Winter Games rotation?
“I think we all collectively had a smile on our faces as we came out of that news. Salt Lake and the Utah region is so well positioned to be considered long term, not just looking at ’30 and ’34,” she said.
“It is a region, a part of the country here that will always be ready to host.”
Later, though, Hirshland said “it would be incredibly premature to either suggest that Salt Lake would be or wouldn’t be a candidate in that regard,” when asked about how the USOPC would select a possible permanent Winter Games host.
It’s the USOPC that decides which cities bid on behalf of the United States for an Olympics, picking Salt Lake City four years ago over Denver, which had proposed an option of holding some events in Utah, in venues built for the 2002 Winter Games.
“I think the IOC is in the very, very early stages of contemplating where are the markets that have both the infrastructure as well as the climate, the weather circumstances, if you will, to be able to, on a regular, somewhat of a regular cadence, to host a Winter Games,” she said.
“I think we can say though, at this point in time, Salt Lake could be in that position,” Hirshland said.
Still, she stressed, “that is far from suggesting that we understand what the details of that might look like or that anyone in Salt Lake has explored anything beyond what we’re focused on right now, which is looking at ’30 and ’34.”
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, agreed it’s too soon to say what a possible plan to rotate the Winter Games among only selected cities would mean for the state.
“We’re just focused on ’30 and ’34 for now. But this dialogue on a longer-term future is an exciting one that we will have to hold in Utah and say, ‘Is this something we want to do? What does it look like?’ Because it’s not well-defined yet,” Bullock said.
He said the USOPC is “in the same boat. This is brand-new news. It has not really been discussed in detail before, so it’s a new concept,” he said of rotating the Winter Games. “The USOPC has to do its own homework.”
Utah, though, “would be well-situated because one of the things that the IOC cited was all the venues need to be in place, which we uniquely have,” Bullock said, predicting the IOC will spend “several years in discussion and study. We hope to be part of that discussion.”
Awarding 2030 and 2034 Winter Games together
Hirshland was much more definitive about the USOPC’s position on a dual award of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games.
“This is an easy answer ... absolutely yes,” she said, adding, “I think there’s absolute advantage to having certainty of what’s to come in the future, allowing a community to begin to prepare. So we’re supportive of a dual award.”
Both Los Angeles and Paris sought to host the 2024 Summer Games, but rather than require the losing city to mount a new bid, the IOC ended up awarding 2024 to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles at the same time.
The additional lead time a dual award offers “requires discipline in managing budgets and managing expanse, but we’ve seen this be quite effective in Los Angeles, so I think there’s real advantages,” Hirshland said.
The USOPC has been clear that because the L.A. Games are just 18 months before the 2030 Winter Games, it would be preferable financially for Salt Lake to wait until 2034 to host again. Salt Lake City is bidding for both 2030 and 2034.
Bullock said the bid committee “absolutely” supports both 2030 and 2034 being named at the same time.
“One way to look at a potential dual award is 2030 has been delayed, but 2034 is potentially being accelerated. So we look at that as a big opportunity,” he said. “Hopefully, in 2024 we’ll see the dual award and we’re hopeful we’ll be one of those two awarded if it happens.”