The group trying to bring another Olympics to Utah keeps knocking.
At any point, it believes, the door to opportunity might swing open.
But, for now, the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee have the keys. And this week, a delegation from Utah spent two and a half hours trying to pick the locks, or at least the minds of IOC staff, to determine what steps remain in the effort to ensure the Winter Games will return to the Salt Lake Valley.
“We’re assuming the Games can be awarded any time, which is fair,” said Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games. “So we are pressing full speed ahead in our preparations to be ready for when that door could open, because we never know when it could open.”
In a video call that IOC President Thomas Bach briefly joined, the Utah group sought to pitch itself as a worthy host of the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games and get more clarity on what actions it can take to make that a reality.
“That was a great interchange, collaborative dialogue between the two of us, so we could understand more about their approach and they could give us feedback on where we are today,” Bullock said. “We received some excellent comments and some excellent insights as we move forward.”
The meeting was originally scheduled over the course of three days in Switzerland in late November. That trip was postponed to early December because of scheduling conflicts. It then devolved into a virtual meeting amid uncertainties in international travel that arose with the discovery of the new omicron variant of COVID-19.
It “was really only deferred, because we’re going to see people in Beijing,” Bullock said. “We’re going to reschedule this visit for the spring of next year.”
Shortly after the Utah group’s meeting with the IOC, President Joe Biden announced issued a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Games in February to protest numerous human rights violations in China. Bullock said, however, that he, committee chair Catherine Raney Norman and Games advisor Darren Hughes still plan to attend. Bullock said that is because their purpose isn’t political, but rather to learn more about the mechanics of the Games.
“Our focus is behind the scenes,” he said, “understanding what they’re doing in terms of hosting Games, new ideas that we can bring into our Games and talking with people about our future hosting opportunity.”
Beijing will be the Utah group’s third audience with the IOC in four months. In a brief Nov. 12 Zoom call joined by USOPC chairperson Susanne Lyons, Utah organizers met with the Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games, which oversees the IOC’s revamped bid process. At that time, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Utah Governor Spencer Cox voiced their support for Utah’s effort to host its second Games.
The Future Host Commission has met with other potential hosts recently as well, but the IOC declined to say which ones.
Serious interest in the 2030 Games has come from Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, Canada; and Barcelona and the Pyrenees mountains in Spain. A German Olympic Committee presidential candidate has also voiced support for a bid for 2030. Ukraine has spoken up about hosting as well but is considered a more likely candidate for 2034 or beyond.
In terms of public support, Salt Lake City has the clear edge. Sapporo lost considerable support from the Japanese people in the aftermath of an expensive Tokyo Games they couldn’t attend. Spain and Vancouver’s bids have also had diminishing public interest, according to recent polls. Utah, meanwhile, had an 89% approval rating in the last poll taken, though that was in 2017 before the pandemic.
Raney Norman said she saw that enthusiasm in the volunteers who worked the long track speedskating World Cup event at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns last weekend.
“We have this stronghold here as people who support and believe in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement that has continued on,” said Raney Norman, a four-time Olympic speedskater. “And that is something truly special and unique that I think kind of sets us apart a bit at times as well.”
Another area where the Salt Lake City bid shines is sustainability. The Utah group plans to reuse all the venues from the 2002 Games, Bullock said. And even though there will be a 40% increase in the number of events since then, including new events like big air skiing and snowboarder cross, he said all of them can fit within existing venues.
Bullock said the IOC emphasized sustainability in its portion of Monday’s presentation.
“So it really was a little bit of symbiosis,” he said, “in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
So what stands in Utah’s way? Right now, the USOPC. Though it named Salt Lake City its host city for the next Winter Olympics it bids upon, the organization has not tipped its hand as to whether it would prefer to have the Games in 2030 or 2034. Part of the delay stems from Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Summer Olympics and concerns that having two Games two years apart could create sponsorship shortfalls.
The SLC-UT committee next meets Dec. 13 for strategic and governing board meetings. Then, during the U.S. Speedskating short track Olympic trials at the Olympic Oval on Dec. 17-19, the USOPC plans to hold a board meeting of its own in Salt Lake City.
Bullock did not indicate an announcement on the date would be made during either of those meetings.
“After Beijing,” he said, “we believe that there will be a stepped up amount of activity.”