After three days of touring proposed 2030 or 2034 Winter Games venues along the Wasatch Front with an International Olympic Committee team of technical experts, Fraser Bullock sounded more sure than ever that the Olympics are coming back to Utah.
“This is exactly what we hoped to receive from the IOC: a partnership (and) great input ... that’s what we’ve felt the last few days,” Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said, describing himself as “always positive. I strongly believe that we’re going to be host of a future Games.”
Whether that’s for 2030 or 2034 is still yet to be determined.
“I’ve obviously got my fingers crossed for 2030 but whenever we’re asked to host them, we’ll be ready,” Bullock said in a telephone interview Friday from the final stop on the venue tour, the Utah Olympic Oval speedskating track in Kearns, Utah.
The visit was the first under the IOC’s new, less-formal bid process that emphasizes keeping costs down to encourage more bidders. All of the technical inspectors’ activities were off-limits to the media. The trio of experts staying in downtown Salt Lake City and set to leave Saturday morning have not been identified.
Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, said the team liked what they saw. The bid utilizes the same venues as 20 years ago, including the University of Utah’s student housing for the athletes’ village and Rice-Eccles Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies.
“Each venue has a fabulous story,” Bullock said, citing as an example the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo where some of the 2002 ice hockey matches were held. Since then, he said local interest in hockey and ice skating has grown, and now the city-run facility’s two rinks are filled, often with young children.
“At the end of the day, these are community facilities,” Bullock said.
Much of the discussion with the experts was technical, focusing on the most efficient way to deal with a 40% increase in events since 2002, he said. That may mean adding new competition sites in Park City, at the new Mayflower Mountain Resort under construction or on ski runs at the Utah Olympic Park.
The Utah Department of Transportation offered a look at how traffic could be managed during the Games using the state agency’s more than 1,200 cameras, Bullock said, while at the Snowbasin Resort in Huntsville, adding slalom and Super-G races to the already planned downhill events was detailed.
“It really is a partnership. They’re trying to help us be better,” he said of the IOC.
Utah’s $2.2 billion bid is facing competition from three other former Olympic hosts: Sapporo, Japan, host of the 1972 Winter Games; Vancouver, Canada, host of the 2010 Winter Games; and Barcelona, Spain, host of the 1992 Summer Games. Barcelona is teaming up with the Pyrenees mountain region to try for a Winter Games.
Under the IOC’s new process, there’s no set date to pick the next Winter Games host. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which chose Salt Lake City to bid on behalf of the United States more than three years ago, has indicated the field should be narrowed within a few months and the deal sealed by 2023.
It’s not clear when the other bid cities will see the IOC inspectors, although there are reports Vancouver is up next week, and insidethegames.biz said the Spanish Olympic Committee confirmed a planned May visit to the Pyrenees-Barcelona region had to be delayed because of disagreements over where venues would be located.
Alejandro Blanco, president of the Spanish Olympic Committee, told reporters he expects the infighting among regional authorities to be settled shortly because, “we are in a hurry, a representation of the IOC was going to come in May to see the facilities, and now we have to delay it.”
The IOC had little to say about the visit to Utah, making it clear there would not be “any media activities around technical visits to potential hosts.”
In response to a request by the Deseret News for details about who the technical inspectors are, what they’re looking for and how their findings figure into the new bid process, the IOC press office said only the inspectors are not members of the Future Host Winter Commission charged with recommending Games sites.
The commission is headed by Romanian IOC member Octavian Morariu, and includes IOC members from Austria, Sweden and Afghanistan, Chinese speedskating gold medalist Zhang Hong, the head of the winter sports federations and representatives of the national Olympic committees and the International Paralympic Committee.
It’s up to the powerful IOC Executive Board to decide whether to advance a candidate — or candidates, if the decision is to award multiple Games at the same time, as happened with the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games — to a vote by the organization’s 100-plus members.
Under the new bid process, the IOC press office said the organization “meets regularly, in person or virtually,” with cities, regions or nations who have expressed interest in hosting an Olympics.
“We offer contextual advice and guidance, and we are interested at any time to hear from cities, regions and National Olympic Committees who want to discuss hosting, at whatever stage of development of their project. The IOC respects the confidentiality of all these discussions,” the press office said.
The three-day visit was described as one of “a range of services available to interested parties” by the IOC.
“Such services include an IOC technical site visit to assist potential hosts and their National Olympic Committees to develop their Games projects and consider their venue options,” the press office said. “The technical visit also provides the Future Host Commission with a status update on the venue masterplan.”
Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah who has co-authored two books on the Olympics, said the IOC is deliberately keeping a low profile in the hopes of avoiding the kind of opposition that led Stockholm and other likely hosts to drop out of the running in recent years, leaving few viable options.
That’s how Beijing, host of the 2008 Summer Games, ended up with the last winter Olympics, the subject of a diplomatic boycott by the United States and several other countries over China’s record on human rights that was pushed by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the leader of Utah’s last Olympics.
“The IOC is really trying to fly below the radar,” Burbank said, because with other cities, “as soon as this becomes a big public debate ... you get opposition. You get people saying, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ and all those sorts of questions. That’s very much what the IOC wants to avoid.”
He said even though that’s not likely to happen in Utah, staying out of the public eye is the IOC’s way of “adapting to the changing environment in lots of other cities.” Burbank said vying for an Olympics is now more about dealing directly with the IOC than bidding against competitors.
“That’s what’s really changed in this process. It really isn’t a bid process anymore,” the professor said. “It’s kind of more, ‘Let’s negotiate this out and when we’re ready to announce, we’ll tell the world about it,’ and see how it goes from there.”