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Can the Olympics slow climate change? Here’s what 2030 Winter Games bidders told Outdoor Retailers

Salt Lake City mayor says Olympics can unify Utahns on environmental issues

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Catherine Raney Norman speaks at a panel discussion on climate change at the Outdoor Retailer show.

Catherine Raney Norman, four-time Olympic speed skater and Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games chair, speaks during a Climate and Sport panel discussion at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Bringing the Winter Games back to Utah can boost efforts to protect the environment, especially from climate change, a group of Olympic bid backers said Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Outdoor Retailer trade show.

“Climate change is the single most important and pressing issue that our global community is facing,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said at the “Campfire Chat” on the Olympics, climate and sustainability held amid outdoor gear displays at the Salt Palace.

The mayor said climate change is “undeniable,” pointing to the shrinking Great Salt Lake, and noting there’s only so much “a blue dot in a red state” can do alone. But she said another Olympics can be unifying politically, given the public’s support for the bid..

Utahns rallied to get TRAX light rail lines extended as well as I-15 expanded in time for the 2002 Winter Games, Mendenhall said, although hosting again in 2030 or 2034 could be a catalyst to converting more people from private cars to public transportation.

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Devin Logan, Olympic silver medalist in freestyle skiing, right, hugs Catherine Raney Norman, four-time Olympic speed skater and Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games chair, after they participated in a Climate and Sport panel discussion at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Catherine Raney Norman, a four-time Olympic speedskater and chairwoman of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said communities where competitions were held in 2002 are already starting to talk about setting priorities for the next Olympics.

For example, she said Park City officials and hospitality providers are interested in whether there are “best practices that we can put in place during the Games around sustainable tourism that can then have a long-term effect.”

Two other Olympians on the panel, luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and slopestyle ski silver medalist Devin Logan, said other Winter Games cities haven’t paid enough attention to the effect of environmental issues on athletes.

“I don’t think the Beijing Olympic Committee brought in athletes to have those discussions,” about the 2022 Winter Games there, said Mazdzer, appointed an International Olympic Committee sustainability ambassador before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until the virus spread around the globe, he said he was working towards reducing the number of single-use bottles that account for an “absolutely insane” amount of plastic waste at an Olympics.

Logan, an athlete member of the Protect Our Winters climate advocacy organization, recalled being told she had to rely on bottled water while competing at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, thanks to brown water coming out of the taps.

“It’s kind of a stab to the gut when you’re told that,” she said.

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Devin Logan, Olympic silver medalist in freestyle skiing, left, Catherine Raney Norman, four-time Olympic speed skater and Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games chair, Chris Mazdzer, Olympic silver medalist in men’s single luge, and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall participate in a Climate and Sport panel discussion at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Tuesday’s event, which attracted more reporters than retailers, comes just weeks after what the International Olympic Committee described as “a wider discussion on climate change, sustainable winter sport, and future opportunities and challenges” among its leaders.

At their closed-door meeting in December, members of the IOC Executive Committee decided to delay picking a 2030 Winter Games host. Their choice, between Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada, had been scheduled to be finalized this fall.

The additional time will be used to consider ways to deal with climate change, including the possibility of rotating the Winter Games among a group of permanent host cities where temperatures are expected to remain cold enough for snow sports.

A study of previous Winter Games hosts published last year found only Sapporo, site of the 1972 Winter Games, could be counted on to have reliable conditions for skiing and snowboarding competitions by the end of the century.

Salt Lake City, bidding for either 2030 or 2034, should be a reliable choice at least through 2050, according to the study. Conditions in Vancouver, Canada, where the 2010 Winter Games were held, could be marginal by 2050 but are expected to be unreliable by 2080.

Any plan to establish a permanent list of host cities is not expected to come until the hosts for the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games have been named. That now may happen at the same time, likely in 2024.

The IOC’s focus on climate change comes as Sapporo’s bid is on pause after suffering a slump in public support as a result of a growing Olympic bribery scandal involving organizers of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo not held until 2021 due to COVID-19.

And Vancouver’s bid took a hit when the British Columbia government announced it would not pledge more than $1 billion towards hosting. Still, backers of what would be the first indigenous-led Olympics are still in the race.

Other contenders may be coming, too, now that the IOC is taking longer to choose a Winter Games host, including what’s been dubbed a “European super bid,” from France, Switzerland and Italy.

Salt Lake City’s bid is competitive when it comes to climate change, Mendenhall suggested.

“The truth is, we’re setting those targets for ourselves. Again, I think it’s part of what makes us an attractive future host city, because we’re going to do it anyway,” the mayor said, also describing the bid as embracing “the best kind of sustainability” by reusing 2002 facilities.

“We could host tomorrow,” she said. “We’d have to work pretty hard and we’d volunteer a lot and tonight we won’t sleep, but we have all the infrastructure that we need in a phenomenal way. That’s the best sustainability offer there is.”