Utah lawmakers are looking at playing a larger role if Salt Lake City is selected to host the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, increasing their oversight of another Olympics by requiring organizers to report to a new committee.

The new Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Coordination Committee created under HB430, introduced Thursday by Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, is charged with watching out for the state’s financial interests in the Olympics.

Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, speaks to the media about a resolution he introduced about state oversight of future Olympics from his office at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

That includes reviewing the host city contract with the International Olympic Committee, now expected to be signed by Gov. Spencer Cox, that ultimately makes Utah taxpayers responsible for what is now more than a $2.2 billion event.

Related
How much would another Utah Olympics cost and who would pay for it?
Should risk of hosting another Olympics in Utah be shared?

“I think it’s just good government. It’s transparency,” Hawkins told reporters Friday, citing the Utah Legislature’s financial responsibilities. “It’s not to insert ourselves. We’re not going to run the Games. We anticipate the Games will be well run like they were in 2002.

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s behind the bid, said he backs the legislation as a way to help “give our citizens of Utah an additional layer of assurance” about hosting again.

“We welcome the partnership with the state because they’re ultimately the backstop. We understand that, so we are prepared to work with them in partnership to make sure that they are comfortable every step of the way,” Bullock said.

Cox spokeswoman Jennifer Napier-Pearce had little to say yet about the bill. For the 2002 Winter Games, it was the governor’s Olympic coordinator, also known as the state’s Olympic czar, who kept an eye on preparations.

When asked if the governor had any concerns about lawmakers taking on a larger role or the liability the state would take on, Napier-Pearce said it “looks like this just came out, so we’re reviewing and don’t have further comment at present.”

When Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Games, the contract with the IOC was signed by the city, which had a separate agreement with the state to indemnify the city against any losses that raised questions about its enforceability.

Under the IOC’s new, less formal bid process, the state is able to directly guarantee the Games will go on. The bill authorizes the governor to sign the host city contract once lawmakers have seen a final copy at least 72 hours in advance.

Bullock, who was the chief operating officer of the 2002 Games, said there’s much less risk associated with hosting this time around because costly facilities like the ski jumps, sliding track and the speedskating oval needed for the Olympics have already been built.

Olympic organizers intend to purchase cancellation insurance, although that’s harder to get due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, adding that all contracts being signed with venues, hotels and other entities already indemnify the state.

Related
2030 and 2034 Winter Games bid timeline: Counting down to the IOC’s decision on another Olympics for Utah

Plus, Bullock said, there is $200 million in contingency funds and another $250 million set aside for Olympic legacy projects that could be tapped if necessary from the proposed budget that will exceed $2.2 billion after being adjusted for inflation.

Hawkins said he’s requested $80 million this year for improvements to 2002 venues, like the Utah Olympic Park near Park City and the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo, but not ski resorts. The funds would be distributed as grants by the new legislative committee.

Bullock said the bid committee has not asked for the state to pay for any improvements, calling the Olympics a “secondary beneficiary” of work that needs to be done for community users.

He has said repeatedly that no state or local tax dollars will be needed to pay for another Olympics, although the federal government funds security costs for high-profile national events like the Super Bowl.

The new legislative committee, which would be made up of lawmakers appointed by the Legislature’s GOP leadership, would focus on the bid as well as “the impact of hosting the games on the state and any state security,” defined as the state’s financial obligation.

It’s not clear what authority the legislative committee would have over the Olympics. Both the Olympic bid and the organizing committees, which are private entities, would be required to report on their activities at least twice a year.

Related
Now more than 80% of Utahns want to host another Olympics, poll shows

Hawkins said his intent is “just to have constant communication between the Legislature, who represents the people, and this nonprofit entity running the Games.” But he initially said he doesn’t know what power lawmakers would have to step in if they don’t like what they hear.

“We’ll have to review that, maybe put something into the bill,” Hawkins said when first asked about the committee’s authority, adding he hadn’t thought about it. “I actually have a great working relationship with members of the bid committee right now and trust them.”

Later, he explained to the Deseret News that all lawmakers “can do is advise because it’s a private entity. So that’s the only role we have there.” Hawkins said that’s fine with him, and he doesn’t plan on altering the bill.

“I don’t necessarily want the Legislature to get their fingers into something that’s better controlled by a private entity,” he said, calling the proposed legislative committee “just an advisory body.”

Hawkins has also introduced a resolution, HCR8, that spells out a number of assurances being made by the state in anticipation of hosting again, such as sufficient security, appropriate medical services and adequate transportation for Olympic participants.

Lawmakers had previously pledged in a 2020 resolution that the state would accept financial responsibility for hosting another Winter Games. Additional legislation detailing how that would work had been anticipated.

Both of Hawkins’ Olympic measures have been sent to the House Government Operations Committee. The legislation comes as a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows 82% of Utahns want another Winter Games.

The IOC postponed naming a host of the 2030 Winter Games last December, likely until sometime next year, when a 2034 host may also be chosen. Other contenders are Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada, although other countries, including Sweden, may still bid.