Remember when the International Olympic Committee was expected to settle on a host city for the 2030 Winter Games as soon as December?
Well, that’s even more up in the air after IOC President Thomas Bach made it clear there’s no pressure to stick to the schedule he laid out earlier this year, now that the annual session where the full IOC membership will ratify the 2030 pick has been postponed from May 2023 until the fall of next year.
Bach told reporters during a virtual news conference Friday that it will be up to the Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games to decide whether to take more time evaluating the bids from Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada; before making recommendations to the IOC Executive Board.
The commission had been set to meet in November to ready recommendations so the executive board could decide at an early December meeting which city — or possibly cities — to advance to contract negotiations to host in 2030, what’s known as targeted dialog under the IOC’s new, less formal bid process.
Now, Bach said, when the IOC leaders narrow the field is up to the commission.
“This will be in the hands of the Future Host Commission, to see whether they still want to go for coming to the EB (executive board) in December or at a later stage,” he said, promising that neither “the executive board nor I as president will interfere into their procedures, into their planning and into their agenda.”
The commission, headed by Romania IOC member Octavian Morariu, only heard about the postponement of the annual session after the decision was made by the executive board Thursday in the wake of the possible suspension of the national Olympic committee of the host country, India.
“They will have to take this into consideration and then come up with a schedule. This is in their hands,” Bach said, noting the commission is part of what he termed “a revolution of our process” for selecting Olympic hosts and “this gives them a lot of autonomy.”
Although the Games traditionally had been awarded seven years in advance, there is no specified timeline in the new bid process being used for the first time to select a Winter Games host. The IOC Executive Board usually meets quarterly, so a decision from them might not come until mid 2023.
‘We are ready at any time’
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s bidding for both 2030 and 2034, isn’t sure whether to expect the IOC to take advantage of the additional time available before the next phase of bidding begins.
“I don’t know. Given that the IOC session is only likely to be moved back a few months, it could go either way,” Bullock said. “Whether they proceed forward with their recommendation in December or at a future executive board meeting, we have full confidence in their process.”
Salt Lake’s bid team met virtually with the future host commission last year and had an in-person meeting with Morariu, the chairman, during a June trip to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, Bullock said. “They have been very helpful to us in thinking through our bid.”
The commission members, which include sport, athlete and national Olympic committee representatives, “have already received a tremendous amount of information from us. They’ve received everything they requested from us. So they know we are ready at any time for further discussions,” he said.
Bullock declined to say whether Salt Lake City, which hosted the 2002 Winter Games, would be helped or hurt by a longer wait.
“Remember, our bid is for ’30 or ’34, so we have a very long view. We’re ready for discussions, we’re ready to host at a time that fits the Olympic movement,” Bullock said. Salt Lake City had been seen as a frontrunner for 2030 alongside Sapporo, but the Utah capital’s focus has shifted towards 2034.
That’s because holding back-to-back Olympics in the United States with Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Summer Games has become more complicated amid a struggling international economy, affecting sponsorships and other revenues needed to cover costs.
Politics plays a role
Geopolitics has played a role too, with Bach raising concerns about some of the U.S. response to Beijing hosting the 2022 Winter Games despite China’s human rights record, warning during the bid team’s meetings in Lausanne that left “bad feelings” among many IOC members.
Still, with what was seen as two strong frontrunners, there was speculation that the IOC would award both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games at the same time. Bach, however, said recently that a decision on 2034 would have to wait until his successor is in place, some three years from now.
Any delay in a decision on 2030 gives Salt Lake City’s rivals the chance to shore up their bids, said Ed Hula, a columnist for Around the Rings, a longtime Olympics news source he founded in Atlanta that’s now based in Buenos Aires.
“I think it gives everybody more time to get those ducks in a row,” Hula said, describing Vancouver as having “a ways to go to get its structure in place.” What would be the first indigenous-led Olympics has yet to secure needed support from government entities.
Sapporo, he said, has to sort out more serious “political questions” posed by a bribery scandal involving an executive of last year’s Summer Games in Tokyo who faces charges in connection with allegations he received some $900,000 in payments from companies that later became Olympic sponsors.
But Hula said the extra time could result in candidates dropping out, too.
“I think it still remains to be seen what will happen with the Japanese bid. The government could decide not to support it, because of how controversial, how scandalous this deal-making comes out to be,” he said, especially since the level of public support for Sapporo’s bid was only hovering around 50% before the scandal.
Sapporo’s mayor has already canceled a planned visit to the IOC in Lausanne, blaming scheduling issues. Questions about the impact of the scandal Friday were answered by IOC spokesman Mark Adams, who said while there are “a whole range of safeguards” already in place, “we don’t live in a perfect world, I’m afraid.”
Adams told reporters that “obviously, the IOC takes note of those allegations with full confidence in the Japanese authorities to deal with those. And of course, it’s in our interest, in the IOC’s interest, to make sure that this case is clarified. The IOC and the Olympic Games do not operate in a bubble.”
Hula isn’t ruling out Salt Lake City being named to host in 2030, suggesting the additional time that could be coming might be the nudge needed to find a way to make hosting the 2030 Winter Games work just 18 months after the Los Angeles Olympics.
“That’s why the IOC is calm and collected about this,” Hula said. “It knows it has a potential candidate like Salt Lake City in the wings.”