Olympic Committee distances itself from NHL, MLB stadium deals

Official makes it clear the IOC does not want Salt Lake City to use the 2034 Winter Games as an excuse for constructing the venues.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) Sports Director Christophe Dubi meets the press in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, File)

An International Olympic Committee executive sent a firm message to Salt Lake City officials Monday: Go ahead and build an NHL or MLB stadium, but don’t use the Olympic Games as a scapegoat.

Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, told reporters in no uncertain terms that the IOC will consider using such venues, if they exist, if Salt Lake City is named host of the 2034 Winter Games. However, construction of the facilities is not integral to Utah’s bid.

“At no point in time should [the construction of] these venues be conditional upon being part of the Games,” Dubi said. “We don’t want any of these venues to say, ‘OK, we need to develop the MLB, the NHL or whatever purpose because they’re going to serve for the Games as well.’ That needs to be very clear.”

Late last month, Utah’s legislature approved a bill that would commit at least $900 million in taxpayer money to the construction of an NHL arena and an MLB stadium in the event the state successfully woos one or both of those professional sports franchises.

Both venue projects have been loosely tied to the Olympics.

When a group led by Jazz owner Ryan Smith officially submitted a bid to bring an NHL expansion team to Salt Lake City in January, it trumpeted the area’s Olympic ties, both past and potentially future. Lawmakers also connected the need for a new hockey arena with the impending arrival of the Winter Games while debate of the bill on the Senate floor.

In addition, Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the local organizing committee, told The Tribune last fall that he believes the MLB stadium envisioned for the Power District near the Utah State Fairpark could serve as a medals plaza — if it is built.

If it isn’t, the local committee has plenty of options that are already in place.

Dubi and Jacqueline Barrett, the director of the IOC’s Future Host Commission, were speaking to reporters ahead of the commission’s planned visit in April to tour Utah’s venues. The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games formally submitted its bid for the 2034 Olympics to the IOC last week. Within the 5,000-page bid is an outline of all planned and potential venues. Neither the MLB nor the NHL stadium was included among the venues, Bullock said.

“We actually have, they’re probably 20 pages long, each venue under contract,” Bullock said, “with all the specific details that we could actually use to host the Games now.”

Officials from the Future Host Commission will rely on that plan when they make their visit to the state next month, Barrett said. After its visit, the Future Host Commission will give its final recommendation to the IOC Board of Directors. The board will then decide whether to allow the IOC general membership to vote on accepting Salt Lake City’s bid to host the 2034 Winter Games. That vote would be taken July 24 or 25, days before the Opening Ceremony of the Paris 2024 Summer Games. If it passes, it would officially start Utah’s countdown to its second Olympics.

“Right now, we’re going to be discussing a venue proposal that Salt Lake-Utah will put on the table,” Barrett said. “If in the forthcoming years — and maybe even after election — another, better possibility becomes available, why not look at it? We would be silly not to look at it.”

The IOC has emphasized sustainability in recent years, including encouraging potential hosts to make use of existing structures. One reason Salt Lake City’s bid has been considered so strong is that it can employ all the same venues from 2002 and would not need to build any new permanent venues.

Dubi made clear that aspect of the bid is still more attractive to the IOC than new, taxpayer-funded stadiums.

“Let’s not create the link between investment in these venues and their necessity for the Olympic Games,” he said.

“I hope that is clear.”