Salt Lake’s desire to host an Olympics is ‘very clear’ to IOC, but no formal bid has been made yet

No Winter Games expected to be awarded until after Beijing 2022 in February

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ukraine's Dmitri Dmitrenko skates during the Men's Free Skate Thursday at the Salt Lake Ice Center during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

A handful of regions have now taken speaking roles in the drama centered on who will become the host of the 2030 Winter Olympics. Salt Lake City, meanwhile, is still peeking out from behind the curtains.

United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials said Friday that they have not made a concerted push to present Utah as a future Winter Games host since July. That’s when chairperson Suzanne Lyons said the organization is “poised and ready” to discuss Salt Lake’s bid.

Indeed, CEO Sarah Hirshland said Friday that the USOPC is still weighing whether it would prefer to bid on the 2030 or 2034 Games.

Meanwhile, Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, British Columbia; and the Barcelona-Pyrenees area have already stepped forward as potential 2030 sites. Ukraine also recently opened a dialogue with the International Olympic Committee, though it is expected to be a stronger candidate for 2034.

Hirshland emphasized, however, that the Salt Lake City area’s desire to host its second Winter Games has been made abundantly clear.

“I don’t think there’s any lack of clarity around our interest,” Hirshland said. “That’s been made very clear both to the IOC and has been widely written about. So, I don’t think there’s any question about our commitment and our interest.”

Hirshland said she does not expect the IOC to name any new hosts before the end of the Beijing Olympics, which are scheduled for Feb. 4-20. The USOPC will announce whether it intends to bid for 2030 or 2034, she said, “at a point in time in which it seems appropriate and we feel confident that we have the right collective decision on timing.”

(Evan Vucci | AP) United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland during a briefing with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Los Angeles 2028 organizers in Beverly Hills, Calif., Feb. 18, 2020.

The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games for the past two years has been preparing bids for both scenarios. The bids can be thousands of pages long and include information on hotel and vendor contracts.

Fraser Bullock, the president of the local committee, said his group has put together “a comprehensive set of materials” and has been meeting weekly with the USOPC.

“As we’ve done so, we’ve gained more and more clarity. And based on that, we think there’s still a few outstanding items that we need to prepare,” Bullock said. “With that, we’re hopeful that in the not too distant future, a decision could be made” regarding whether to pursue 2030 or 2034.

He said he understands that the USOPC’s main focus has been on safe and successful participation in the Summer Games in Tokyo and the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing, which will be held just six months apart.

The Los Angeles Games in 2028 is perhaps the most influential factor in determining Salt Lake’s bid year. Local organizers do not want to steal any would-be sponsors away from those Olympics but also want to ensure enough sponsorship interest in a Utah Games exists to make them economically viable. The Salt Lake City committee has spent much of its efforts determining if hosting immediately after L.A. would create a two-year-long wave of excitement or if the nation’s Olympic enthusiasm would be sapped after the Summer Games.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, makes a few comments about Utah's next steps towards an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.

Though the USOPC has not made a formal push to put Salt Lake back on the world stage, Hirshland said progress toward that goal is being made. This summer, the local committee announced a restructuring that would put more athletes in decision-making positions, per the IOC’s request. The state is also actively seeking to bring in other large-scale international events such as the Ironman World Championships, which will be temporarily moving from Kona, Hawaii, to St. George next spring.

“We are continuing to explore and ensure that the IOC and that important Winter Games host commission understands the Salt Lake community and surrounding communities, the venues, the opportunity that sits in front of us,” Hirshland said. “And all of that work can continue to go on and is going on in a very active way.”

The IOC restructured its Olympic bid process in 2019 after a series of bribery scandals. Now, instead of awarding a Games to a host seven years in advance — in a process that pitted regions against one another — it awards them whenever it feels it has a viable candidate.

Because of that, Hirshland said she doesn’t feel as though Salt Lake’s window of opportunity is closing.

“It really is an ongoing discussion happening and a much less structured, sort of big window open or closed,” she said. “So we consider the bid process very open and very active.”

But the USOPC will have to be careful not to be caught on its heels, either. When the IOC earlier this year awarded exclusive negotiating rights and eventually the 2032 Summer Games to Brisbane, Australia — 11 years before they will take place — it caught many would-be suitors such as Qatar, Hungary and Germany off-guard.