Is Salt Lake City capable of hosting Sochi's Winter Olympics?
Will Salt Lake City host the 2014 Winter Games? Almost certainly not. But could Salt Lake, logistically, host the 2014 Games? Answers range from no doubt to no chance.
The question arises after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law in June banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and giving the government seemingly broad powers to discriminate against gays. The next Winter Olympics are scheduled for February in Sochi, Russia, and a grass-roots effort is afoot to either boycott the games or move them to another city.
Salt Lake City is on the short list of places that could conceivably host a modern-scale Winter Olympics on a moment's notice. The current front-runner in the again, highly improbable and basically unsought bid for a relocated 2014 Games is 2010 host Vancouver. More than 80,000 people have now signed a change.org petition to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge to make the Canadian metropolis into the games' first-ever back-to-back host.
But the Vancouver Games didn't go off without a hitch. Even after months of artificial snow-packing efforts, skiers complained about conditions. A luger died on the day of the opening ceremony and some questioned the safety of the track. The city's taxpayers may have lost $300 million in funding the Olympic Village.
So Salt Lake City might be better prepared to set the world's stage in just six months, right? 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee president Fraser Bullock says you shouldn't get your hopes up.
"At this short of notice, nobody can host a Games, other than Sochi," Bullock says. "There's just too much infrastructure to put in place. You really have to build a temporary city."
First, there are physical obstacles. A park and ride lot in South Weber that served Snowbasin has been largely incorporated into a neighboring gravel pit. The 2002 Olympic Village is now part of the University of Utah's dormitories. Bleachers have to be built at the base of ski runs, and two new sports snowboardcross and skicross would require a venue that wasn't needed in 2002.
There are also logistical problems. Park City Chamber Bureau President Bill Malone says they planned for the 2002 Games for seven years. An Olympic host has a daunting to-do list that includes: finding accommodations for corporate sponsors, negotiating with venues, rescheduling previously scheduled events, setting prices, organizing celebrations, arranging credentials for every major news outlet and network, and extensive advance budgeting. The Park City Chamber set aside money for years just for fireworks alone.
"I'm sure it could be done," Malone says. "Whether it could be done well, that's the question."
Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is more optimistic. Anderson says IOC officials confided to him that if they were to pick one place to permanently host the Winter Olympics, it would be SLC. Anderson says transportation is the biggest barrier for most cities, and Utah's highways and light-rail system is already equipped to carry an Olympic load. The key, he says, would be raising the necessary funds.
"I understand Mitt Romney doesn't have a whole lot going on," he says. "Maybe we could bring him back and do it again."
Anderson also thinks Salt Lake's record of embracing gays and lesbians would send a clear message to Russian lawmakers. Sports minister Vitaly Mutko recently fueled the flames when he said the anti-gay legislation would be enforced during the games in Russia, where a recent Pew Research survey found that 74 percent of the population doesn't think homosexuality should be accepted by society. The IOC has since said it is negotiating with the Russian government to ensure that the law causes no trouble in Sochi.
British comedian Stephen Fry, who is both gay and Jewish, wrote in an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the IOC that the world should have learned its lesson from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, "which provided a stage for a gleeful Fuhrer and only increased his status at home and abroad."
"Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world."
Alas, Bullock says, nowhere else will do. "Out of all the places, Salt Lake is one of the best places to host a Games, but even for us, we'd need a minimum of two years."