Salt Lake City-Utah Olympics committee expects to follow Tokyo in trimming budget

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, says the state will be watching Tokyo Summer Games organizers very closely in terms of what kind of budget cuts they will make to help offset heavy financial losses by the postponement of the 2020 Olympics due to the pandemic.

During every Olympics, a series of ceremonies are held behind the guarded gates of the Athletes Village. National flags are raised, pictures are taken, an anthem is sung.

The team reception, held for all competitors — from Fiji’s smattering to the United States' throng — has become a Games tradition. Yet in an effort to shore up the overrun costs from postponing the Olympics because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Tokyo 2021 organizing committee is expected to cut those ceremonies and several other less visible expenses.

And it may not just be a temporary measure. Fraser Bullock, the president of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said such cutbacks will be considered when Utah next hosts an Olympics.

“We’re watching Japan carefully because what they’re doing is they’re blazing new trails with their almost $300 million of cost reductions that they’re doing,” Bullock said. “We’re following that. And we’re going to learn every lesson we can from them. We appreciate their leadership and particularly in this risk environment, being able to address risk. And what they’re doing with that is a great example for us.”

Bullock was speaking Wednesday following the first board meeting of the SLC-Utah Committee for the Games since it formed in February. No decision was made as to whether Utah will bid to host a Winter Olympics in 2030, 2034 or a more distant date. The group plans to meet again in November, but an announcement on a bid year isn’t expected until after the Tokyo Games.

Instead, the committee has spent the past eight months going over its budget again and again and again. Bullock said he believed they were on version No. 35. The committee expects to be able to host the Games for $1.35 billion, much of which is anticipated to be privately funded. But, Bullock said, the cost of inflation over the next decade could raise the price tag between 30-36%, so he’s welcoming any ideas for places to trim the fat.

“The most important element of hosting the games is on the field and watching the athletes, and we never compromise or scale down any element associated with that,” he said. “We make it beautiful. We make the field of play the best in the world. Everything else behind the scenes can be scaled down.”

In addition to the ceremonies, Japan is expected to reduce the number of IOC officials invited to the event and cut back on SWAG for athletes and decorations in the village and at venues. In all, according to the Asia-Pacific news source The Diplomat, the IOC and Tokyo Olympics organizing committee have agreed to reduce costs for 52 specific items. That could produce hundreds of millions of dollars of savings, though that is but a fraction of the approximately $15 billion the Tokyo Games were expected to cost even before the delay.

Tokyo doesn’t get all the credit for the trims, though. Over the past three years, the IOC has pinpointed 118 places where hosts should look to reduce costs, said Bullock, who helped with the effort.

Cindy Crane, the committee chair, cautioned that the cuts may not even be noticed when the Games return to Utah. She said the committee is starting from a much better financial position than Tokyo was even when it bid on the games in 2011. The 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City were among the very few Olympics to turn a profit.

“With our budget, because of our unique position, we start in a better place than pretty much any Olympic host that’s currently in the pipeline to host some games,” Crane said. “And so that just really gives us a leg up to be to be able to put on the games and to be able to provide that experience to the athletes.”

Catherine Raney, a four-time Olympic speed skater, said the ceremonies and souvenirs are just window dressings. They aren’t why athletes dedicate years of their lives to qualifying for the Games. That fact, she said, has been illustrated by the postponement of the Tokyo Games and the prospect that they wouldn’t be held at all.

“Athletes just want to compete,” said Raney, who serves as an Athletes Advisory Council co-chair for the SLC-Utah group. “You know, they have been training for 10, 15 years straight, and this is their dream and this is the pinnacle. And they just want to compete. And when you have something like this happen this summer with the postponement of the games, I think it becomes even more dire and it becomes even more important. And all that other ancillary stuff, those nice-to-haves are significantly less important because you’re chasing your dream.”