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Should the IOC ‘grab Salt Lake City while it can’ to host the 2030 Winter Games?

Utah Olympics bid shouldn’t be taken for granted, expert says

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South Korea’s Dohee You races in the men’s single luge World Cup event at Utah Olympic Park in Park City.

South Korea’s Dohee You races in the men’s single luge World Cup event in Park City on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022. The Utah Olympic Park served as the sliding track for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

The International Olympic Committee should go ahead and give the 2030 Winter Games to Salt Lake City rather than delaying a decision, according to a communications company boss who’s been involved with the Olympics for more than 40 years.

Given that other 2030 bids “have either imploded … or are about to,” the IOC “might do well to reverse course and grab Salt Lake City while it can,” Rich Perelman, now founder and editor of The Sports Examiner, wrote in a column posted Wednesday.

Perelman warned that Utah’s strong public support for hosting another Winter Games, measured at 79% in a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll last August, could waver over issues including the looming recession and a possible Olympic boycott.

“The IOC would be wrong to simply assume that Salt Lake City is a permanent bidder that it can take for granted,” he wrote, suggesting the IOC is “suddenly facing a crisis” because the other contenders, Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada, are struggling.

Two-thirds of Sapporo residents currently oppose the bid, already on hold amid a growing Olympic bribery scandal involving organizers of the 2020 Summer Games held last year in Tokyo. The British Columbia government continues to refuse to back Vancouver’s bid.

A bid from Barcelona, Spain, collapsed last summer due to regional infighting. All four would-be hosts have held Olympics before — Barcelona, the Summer Games in 1992; and the Winter Games for Salt Lake City in 2002; Sapporo in 1972; and Vancouver in 2010.

Last month, instead of advancing a bid city to contract negotiations, IOC leaders postponed the 2030 pick, saying more time is needed to consider the impact of climate change on the Winter Games.

No timeline for choosing the 2030 host has been set under the IOC’s new, less formal bid process, but it’s not likely to happen until next year.

Perelman told the Deseret News he believes the IOC could reconsider the postponement in the coming weeks, prodded by concern over an effort to find a way for now-banned Russian athletes to compete in upcoming Olympics despite Russia’s war against Ukraine.

That, he said, could cost public support for Salt Lake City’s bid. There is already talk the IOC-driven effort could result in calls for a boycott of the 2024 Summer Games in Paris by Ukraine’s western allies.

The U.S. led a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing pushed by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the leader of the 2002 Olympics, to protest China’s record on human rights. The IOC has criticized the U.S. for not showing more support for the Beijing Games.

‘Circumstances may change’ for the IOC

The IOC understands what could happen with 2030, said Perelman, a vice president of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles and president of Perelman, Pioneer & Company, whose list of clients includes Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Games.

“Right now, the danger is they have Salt Lake City and they have nobody else. That’s not the ideal position that they’d like to be in,” he said, adding the IOC “had four bids and now they have one. You don’t want to tick off that one.”

Matthew Burbank, a University of Utah political science professor and the author of two books about the Olympics, said he views the IOC as “in a more difficult position than they may realize.”

Still, Burbank said, it’s always possible leaders of the Switzerland-based organization could scrap the plan to hold off on naming a 2030 host if they suddenly see they could be left with no options.

“They’ve said, yes, they’re going to put this off. But the reality is, circumstances may change,” the professor said. “That’s kind of the way that organization works, right, is it tends to be driven by the immediacy of whatever’s in front of it.”

So, he said, “if it feels like they really need to get a decision made or they’re going to be in trouble farther down the line, I can absolutely see them changing their mind and coming up with a decision more quickly.”

Burbank said he doesn’t see Utah’s support for the Olympics faltering, but if community leaders backing the bid start to feel strung along, that might make them question why they’re “involved in a game they can’t win.”

Salt Lake City is bidding for either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, but the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee recently made it clear it would be financially preferable to host later rather than just 18 months after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Perelman, who pointed out in his column that the domestic marketing issues with Los Angeles “have been under discussion for a while now,” said the IOC could resolve that sticking point by offering a larger share of international sponsorship revenues.

With Salt Lake City, he said the IOC has “a really, really, really good, proven — proven — host that’s ready to go, wants the Games, and can deliver. You couldn’t be in a safer pair of hands than Salt Lake City.”

Salt Lake City’s bid team: We’re patient and prepared

Asked about Perelman’s call for the IOC to make a decision on 2030 sooner rather than later, Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said in a statement that each day, bidders “inch closer to a potential award.”

“We understand that bid dynamics are always fluid and can change at any time. However, the constant in this bid process is the strength of a Utah bid. We have incredible support and everything is in place for fantastic Games,” he said.

That’s something the Olympics and Paralympics can count on, Bullock said, praising the IOC.

“We deeply respect the careful thought and oversight of the IOC in the bid. They are true partners and give superb guidance. While we prefer 2034, they know we are ready for either 2030 or 2034,” he said.

Bullock, who has remained active in the Olympic movement since serving as chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games, also said he’s learned “to be patient but also to be extremely well prepared to host a future Games. We are both.”

And while he said the hope is that Salt Lake City will be awarded a Winter Games next year, bidders “are also prepared to meet whatever bid process adjustments may occur in the future.”

Bullock also believes Utahns’s support for the bid will remain strong.

“It makes a significant difference when everything is in place and no Utah taxpayer money is required to host the Games,” he said. “And Utah loves the Games.”