‘We’ll get the Games back,’ in 2030 or 2034, U.S. Olympic leader pledges during Utah visit
New Olympic oversight, bid assurances unanimously approved by Utah Legislature
The head of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee could not have sounded more confident about another Winter Games coming to Utah after being on hand at the state Capitol for the unanimous passage of bid-related legislation Thursday.
“There are not going to be bids that look more attractive to the (International Olympic Committee) than Salt Lake City, so we’ll get the Games back,” Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the Colorado Springs-based USOPC, told reporters after the Utah Legislature’s actions.
Whether that’s for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, however, remains to be seen. After the IOC postponed choosing between Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada; to host in 2030, other countries, including Sweden, are eying bids.
Hirshland said if there are other “viable bids” for 2030, then the focus will be on getting 2034. That’s the USOPC’s preference, given the potential financial fallout from hosting a Winter Games in the U.S. just 18 months after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
But if that doesn’t happen, “we direct our attention to ’30,” she said, calling the bid by Utah’s capital city, the host of the 2002 Winter Games, “very difficult to beat, so Salt Lake is going to host a Winter Games again.”
Utah lawmakers took the unusual step of passing two pieces of legislation — HB430 that creates a new Olympic oversight role for the Legislature, and HCR8 that offers the IOC assurances from the state — in both the House and Senate on the same day.
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s behind the bid, said the legislation needed to be in place to “take the next step” in the IOC’s new, less formal bid process.
“Everybody is united,” Bullock said, adding the state will serve as the “ultimate backstop” for covering the cost of a Winter Games, even though no state or local tax dollars are expected to be needed for a proposed budget that will exceed $2.2 billion due to inflation.
He downplayed the new oversight lawmakers will have compared to 2002, which includes a new legislative committee that will require reports from Olympic organizers at least twice a year.
“It’s not as if they’re going to run the Games. They’re not,” Bullock said. “But that we need to be accountable to them, to tell them, ‘Here’s what’s going on. Here are the risks. Here are the opportunities.’ It’s just a continuation of our partnership with them.”
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, had been heard by a House committee where questions were raised about the state taking on the responsibility for a Winter Games.
Gov. Spencer Cox is set to sign a host city contract with the IOC should Salt Lake be awarded a Winter Games, a decision likely to be made some time next year for both 2030 and 2034.
When Salt Lake City hosted in 2002, only a mayor could accept the liability for an Olympics, which in the U.S. are privately funded largely through the sale of sponsorships, broadcast rights and tickets. The IOC now permits a state to provide that guarantee.
Before the bill and resolution passed without dissent in both the House and Senate, there was only a brief mention during the debate about why lawmakers should be involved in the bid and organizing process.
“We need to ensure there is integrity,” Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said, calling HB430 “an opportunity to engage ... and to recognize the responsibility this Legislature has of oversight.”
The governor, who was scheduled to meet privately with Hirshland and new USOPC Chair Gene Sykes, later Thursday told reporters during the taping of his monthly news conference on PBS Utah there’s little risk in holding another Olympics.
It’s “very, very minor,” the governor said, since the ski jumps, sliding tracks and other venues used in the 2002 Winter Games remain in use. “Having those venues already built, already ready, already contracted, that’s why this Games makes so much sense.”
It’s also why Cox believes the IOC may end up with a rotation of “four or five sites that just host the Games in perpetuity. I can see that happening. The era of building brand-new stadiums only to tear them down, that’s an ecological disaster. It’s an economic disaster.”
Utah could fill that role, the governor said.
“Seriously, if they said, ‘We’re going to have an emergency with the Olympics in six months, can you guys do it?’ We can do it. That’s how prepared we are for this,” he said, adding, “We’re ready to go and there’s really very, very small risk.”
The legislation passed Thursday is headed to the governor for his action. Cox indicated he has no problem with lawmakers being involved.
“That’s a legislative prerogative. They’re certainly entitled to do that. We support them being able to do that. We feel very confident in our ability. In fact, we actually feel more confident” than before the 2002 Games, he said, when there was “a lot of risk to the public.”
Contributing: Katie McKellar