Why US Olympic leaders still want Salt Lake City to host a Winter Games in 2034, not 2030

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The Olympic Cauldron is lit, marking the 20-year anniversary of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics opening ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah on Feb. 8. The decision on where the 2030 Winter Games should be held may have been delayed, but the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee still wants Salt Lake City to wait another four years before hosting again (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The decision on where the 2030 Winter Games should be held may have been delayed, but the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee still wants Salt Lake City to wait another four years before hosting again, to avoid affecting the money that can be made by the upcoming Summer Games in Los Angeles.

That was made clear Thursday by USOPC leaders after two days of virtual board meetings that included a discussion of the International Olympic Committee’s upending the timeline for choosing a 2030 host from among Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada.

“We have stated a preference for 2034 but also stated that we believe that we have readiness to do 2030 if that was asked of us. I don’t think that has changed,” Susanne Lyons, the USOPC’s outgoing board chairwoman, told reporters during a media call, acknowledging Salt Lake City’s eagerness to host sooner rather than later.

“As you know, Salt Lake City is poised and ready, with their toes on the starting line, just waiting for someone to (fire) off the gun,” Lyons said. But with the 2030 Winter Games coming just 18 months after the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles, that would impact revenues.

Citing the effect of back-to-back Olympics in the United States on the “sponsorships and other commercial activities,” which are needed to pay the multibillion-dollar price tag for hosting in a country that doesn’t fund the event with tax dollars, Lyons said “our preference would be to put a little bit more light in between those two Games.”

Last week, the IOC moved the annual session where the pick for 2030 would be finalized from May in Mumbai until sometime in the fall of 2023 at a yet to be named location due to a possible suspension of India’s national Olympic committee.

It remains to be seen if that also changes the IOC Executive Board’s plans to advance one or more of the bid cities in December to begin contract negotiations to host in 2030 in what’s known as the targeted dialog stage under a new, less formal bid process.

And although there had been speculation both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games hosts might be named at the same time, IOC President Thomas Bach has said a decision on 2034 won’t happen until after his successor is named some three years from now.

Hard lesson learned

Delaying a decision gives Sapporo and Vancouver more time to deal with issues facing their bids. For Sapporo, that’s a new Olympic bribery scandal involving an executive from the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo accused of accepting some $900,000 from would-be sponsors. Vancouver is still rounding up needed government support.

“Does the moving of the date really change much? It doesn’t change much for us, because I think our level of readiness is such that if those conversations happen tomorrow versus if they happen six months from now, we are pretty much in the same state of readiness that we need to be,” Lyons said.

Salt Lake City’s rivals will have more opportunity “to work through what they need to do. So we don’t really know what the impact will be,” Lyons acknowledged, also pointing out the IOC’s delay “has very little to do with the decision about bid cities.”

She addressed the steps taken to ensure Salt Lake City won’t face another Olympic bribery scandal. Bidders used cash, gifts, college scholarships and other incentives to secure the votes of IOC members for Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Games bid, igniting an international scandal.

The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s bidding for 2030 and 2034 focused on ethics early on, instituting specific policies prohibiting gifting, Lyons said. Both she and Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOPC, are on the bid committee.

“If there were ever probably the cleanest opportunity to try to keep the bidding process free from any type of graft or bribery, Salt Lake City learned a very, very hard lesson last time so that has been a very integral part of how the governance has been structured, and how the ethics and values of the bid committee has been structured,” Lyons said.

“So while you can never guarantee what any individual would do, I would say that every possible precaution has been put into place to learn from the past,” she said.

‘Salt Lake City stands ready’

Although all three contenders for 2030 have previously hosted a Winter Games — Salt Lake City in 2002, Sapporo in 1972 and Vancouver in 2010 — Salt Lake City bidders have focused on being “ready, willing and able” to host in either 2030 or 2034 thanks to the continuous use of the state’s Olympic facilities for training and competition.

Hirshland said the USOPC board, which does not meet publicly, “talked a lot about Salt Lake City.”

The Utah bid “continues to push ahead. They are in really, really good shape as far as their bid preparedness. They’re doing everything right as they share the story of the remarkable sports culture in Salt Lake City and across the state of Utah,” Hirshland said.

She noted the recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll that found nearly 80% of Utahns approve of hosting another Olympics, “which is a very, very high number. They’re just kind of chomping at the bit and wanting to move forward.”

Talks with the IOC are ongoing, Hirshland said, and “Salt Lake City stands ready when we are asked to engage more closely in this process.”

The question of whether that’s going to be for 2030 or 2034 is nothing new. When Salt Lake City was selected by the USOPC over Denver to bid on behalf of the United States back in December 2018, it was for an unspecified future Winter Games.

“Our bid for Salt Lake City has always really looked at the possibility of either 2030 or 2034. That really hasn’t changed,” Lyons said, even with what she called “additional challenges” with an earlier Winter Games posed by the proximity to the Los Angeles Olympics.

But she said the USOPC has “very clearly communicated to the IOC, if they need us in 2030, we will find a way to make that happen. So we’re very committed to whichever year best suits all of the interested parties, including the global, overall Olympic movement as a whole.”

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