Any plan to rotate the Winter Games among a limited number of cities won’t come until after a decision is made on what may be a dual award for both 2030 and 2034, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Wednesday.
“By a double allocation, we would win some time to then establish a sound rotation system, so that this then would follow the allocation for 2030,” Bach told reporters during a virtual news conference after three days of IOC Executive Board meetings.
The timetable for choosing the host of the 2030 Winter Games was upended Tuesday after the IOC’s Future Host Commission told the board more time was needed to study the impact of climate change on the competitions held every four years.
Now, instead of the Executive Board advancing one or more of the contenders — Salt Lake City, Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada — to the contract negotiations stage of the new bid process by early next year, with a final vote on the host pushed to the fall of 2023, the decision has been delayed until July 2024 at the earliest.
The IOC may once again be looking to name hosts for both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games at the same time, a prospect that had seemed likely since Sapporo and Salt Lake City were both seen as strong candidates. But Bach said earlier this year he wanted a decision on 2034 to wait until his term ends in three years.
Wednesday, however, he suggested the choice may not be left to his successor.
“I think it would be too late in ’26 for a double award. Four years, even if you have extremely well-prepared cities and regions, four years is, I think, is pretty short,” Bach said, referring to the amount of time organizers would have to get ready for the 2030 Winter Games.
The IOC president’s comments come as Sapporo is struggling to deal with the fallout from a growing Olympic bribery scandal involving the 2020 Summer Games held last year in Tokyo, and Vancouver is scrambling to secure government backing after British Columbia declined to pledge more than $1 billion in funding.
Both bid cities are seen as benefiting from the delay. For Salt Lake City, a dual award is a best-case scenario, since hosting in 2034 is financially preferable to bringing back an Olympics just 18 months after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
All three cities in talks with the IOC to host in 2030 have hosted before, Salt Lake City, in 2002; Sapporo, in 1972; and Vancouver, in 2010. Each made presentations to the Future Host Commission last month in preparation for Tuesday’s report to IOC leaders.
Could Salt Lake City become a permanent Winter Games host?
It’s not clear how a rotating system for hosting future Winter Games would work. For example, would the IOC name a single location for North America or one each for the U.S. and Canada? And how often would a designee host? And would the cities selected for 2030 and 2034 become part of any rotation?
“As I understand it, they’re two separate decisions” for the IOC, Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said. “For a Games host in ’30 or ’34 there’s an established set of criteria that we think we meet very, very well. For becoming a rotational host, there will be a new set of criteria.”
Bullock said the Utah bid team is already starting to assemble data based on “some of the early indicators relative to what they’re expecting,” such as the long-term conditions at competition sites. A recent analysis of former Winter Games sites showed Salt Lake City should be able to count on good conditions through 2050.
Whether Salt Lake City would pursue a permanent spot in the Winter Games lineup is yet to be decided, Bullock said.
“That’s obviously a larger decision. It’s one thing to bid for one Games. It’s an entirely new ambition to do multiple Games. While we’re excited about that, we know we need to engage with any discussion around that with the community and say, ‘Does this make sense for us?’” he said. “It’s an exciting idea but is also something that needs careful evaluation.”
But Bullock believes rotating the Games between a select group of cities will happen.
“I think given climate change, it’s probably a necessity,” he said, adding, “We know that the Olympic movement and Paralympic movement are global in nature and being able to visit various places in the world is fundamental to their purpose, so we would expect some kind of global rotation.”
Robert Livingstone, a producer of GamesBids.com based in Canada, isn’t so sure.
“To be honest, I don’t see how that would work in the long term. Because you could get a city like Salt Lake City now saying, ‘Hey, yeah, we want to join this rotation and host the Games every 20 years.’ But 12 years from now, a new government comes into place and says, ‘We’re not interested anymore.’”
The IOC would also be faced with new cities vying to join the rotation, he said.
“It just seems really complicated,” Livingstone said. “There’s always going to be politics involved and things change all the time as we know. The requirements of sports will change. Maybe the ski federation decides they need a higher mountain or whatever. So I think it’s a really, really tough ask.”
The sudden focus on climate change may be less about moving towards a different system for selecting Winter Games hosts, he said, than “buying time to get Sapporo back in shape” since the Japanese city has been viewed as the frontrunner for 2030.
“Salt Lake City is set for ’34 anyways, so that could be the new allocation. They’re just not ready to do that now because Sapporo’s in a bad spot,” Livingstone said. “So maybe it is just posturing right now,” with the intent of advancing Sapporo and Salt Lake City for a dual award in 2024 or 2025.
What the IOC will be looking at
The IOC announced Tuesday that the bid process was shifting yet again. In a news release, the IOC spelled out that the commission will “further study the landscape of winter sport with a view to the election of the host of the Olympic Winter Games 2030 and beyond,” including:
- Academic research showing a potential reduction in the number of climate-reliable hosts.
- Ongoing discussions by winter sports federations about adjustments already starting to be made to their event calendars and potential new competition formats.
- The idea of rotating the Olympic Winter Games within a pool of hosts.
- A proposal to ensure climate reliability by requiring hosts to show average minimum temperatures of below 0 degrees Celsius (freezing) for snow competition venues at the time of the Winter Games over a 10-year period.
The news release said a double award for 2030 and 2034 has also been discussed, “to create stability for winter sports and the Olympic Winter Games” but noted, “no conclusion was reached, since this needs more exploration.”
The commission’s chairman, Romania IOC member Octavian Morariu, suggested in a statement that a rapid response to climate change is now needed.
“The new, flexible approach to electing Olympic hosts was designed so the IOC could respond swiftly and effectively to ever-changing global circumstances, for the benefit of the athletes, all Olympic Games participants and the whole sports movement,” Morariu said.