An Athlete Family Village? Utah’s Olympic bidders say that’s part of the vision for another Winter Games
First-ever family housing would ideally be next to Athletes Village at the University of Utah, bid leader says
If there’s another Olympics in Utah, organizers are planning to not only provide housing for the world’s athletes, but also for their families.
What would be the first-ever “Athlete Family Village” was announced Wednesday as part of the vision for hosting the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games by leaders of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games.
No location was proposed for the family housing during the virtual meeting, but the media was later told the ideal site would be next to the Athletes Village at the University of Utah, where competitors lived during the 2002 Winter Games.
“Many of us spend our careers chasing our dream and we make the Games. And then it becomes a challenge for the families to join,” the bid committee’s chairwoman, four-time Olympic speedskater Catherine Raney Norman, said during the meeting.
She cited a posting to an online athlete forum by an unnamed competitor who’d attended three Olympics, all without his parents there to cheer him on because they couldn’t make the trip.
“To me, that’s tragic when we hear about that,” Raney Norman said. “It’s tragic when we hear that athletes’ families can’t get tickets, or have trouble with transportation or it’s not accessible for them.”
The concept of an athlete family village was developed by the athletes involved in the bid, she said, including retired Olympic gold medalist skier Lindsey Vonn and seven-time Paralympian Chris Waddell.
“We can help,” Raney Norman said. “We’re very fortunate with the resources and the partners that we have, where we can help to try to provide affordable tickets, access to transportation, housing, etc., and take that on.”
Taking care of their families will minimize what’s called the “ripples of disturbance” in the sports world for the athletes competing, she said, “and really create a holistic experience for them.”
During a media briefing following a closed-door meeting of bid leaders, the committee’s president and CEO, Fraser Bullock, told reporters the Athlete Family Village “is just an idea at this point.”
But Bullock said “if we could make it happen, we would secure some additional housing at the University of Utah,” estimating 1,000 to 2,000 beds could be made available to the families of athletes from around the world, just outside the secured Athletes Village.
“Right next door, you could have the families,” he said. “There’s so much great housing at the University of Utah that taking advantage of that would be a dream come true. We recognize that that’s a huge inconvenience to the U.”
Bullock said some potential sponsors have already shown interest in picking up the cost of what he termed “transformational” housing, so it wouldn’t add to the more than $2.2 billion price tag for hosting.
“We believe that we could have this budget neutral because we believe this is a natural for sponsors,” he said. “I’ve already talked to one or two and they would love to assist in this because they know how important it is for the Games.”
Elevating the Games experience for athletes and their families as well as spectators was one of three elements to the vision laid out for the community, political, business and sports representatives on the bid committee’s board.
Bullock said the “elevate” theme is the answer to the International Olympic Committee’s question about the purpose of Utah’s bid to host another Games. In 2002, the theme chosen by organizers was, “Light the Fire Within.”
For communities, plans for another Games include encouraging schools to teach Olympic values such as global unity and inclusion; accelerating existing sustainability efforts; and using the Games as an opportunity to bring people together in a divisive world, he said.
Sport is “obviously the heart” of the Olympics, Bullock said, and elevating that element means expanding “participation for all abilities with emphasis on our youth in sport,” as well as helping ensure Team USA has a high medal count at the next Utah Games.
He also advised the bid committee board that the IOC isn’t likely to name the hosts of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games until just before the 2024 Summer Games start in Paris, but key decisions could be coming in October.
Those include whether the IOC will award both 2030 and 2034 at the same time, and possibly, whether the Winter Games should be rotated among a set group of cities deemed able to deliver enough snow despite climate change.
A decision at the IOC’s October session to offer a dual award would allow the Switzerland-based organization’s leaders to advance their picks for 2030 and 2034 to the contract negotiations stage of the new, less formal bid process at the end of the year.
Bullock said again the preference is to host in 2034, but Salt Lake City is ready to take on 2030. There are concerns that with Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Summer Games, another Winter Games in the U.S. just 18 months later could take a financial hit.
New contenders have been emerging for 2030, potentially including cities in Sweden, Switzerland, France and others that are privately in discussions with the IOC. Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada; are both struggling to stay in the race.
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Board Chairman Gene Sykes told the bid committee board he continues “to receive extraordinary positive feedback” from leaders of the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and others in the worldwide movement.
“There’s a very, very deep level of enthusiasm and confidence that Salt Lake City and Utah are the really great partners for the Olympic Winter Games. They know that Utah can deliver a great Games,” Sykes said.
He cited the bid team’s experience and their “close collaboration with public officials,” such as the Utah Legislature’s unanimous approval of legislation providing the IOC with needed guarantees. “That goes a long way with the IOC officials.”
Sykes also said the IOC takes note of the “incredible” level of public support for another Olympics in Utah, measured at 82% earlier this year in a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.