Why Utah’s Olympic bid has been refocused on 2034

IOC’s ‘hard feelings’ about U.S. diplomatic boycott of Beijing 2022 could play a role in host selection

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather near the Olympic cauldron before it is lit up on the 20-year anniversary of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Opening Ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022.

For most of the past year, organizers of Salt Lake City’s bid to host another Olympics have been touting their readiness to bring the Winter Games back to Utah in 2030, though 2034 was also an option. Recently that messaging has begun to change. And following an in-person meeting with the International Olympic Committee officials last week, it took a hard turn.

Now, it appears, the goal is to host in 2034, but with an open mind about 2030.

“We will figure this out, but if we have a preference, it would be better for us to do 2034,” Susanne Lyons, the board chair of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“I think in Salt Lake, the bid committee is realizing that we are in an absolutely fantastic position for 2034, but we may still be called upon for 2030.”

Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Utah bid committee, said the need for a shift in focus has become more apparent recently. The uptick in inflation and the growing potential for a recession, compounded with the already significant financial hurdles of hosting an Olympics 18 months after Los Angeles holds the 2028 Summer Games, had begun making 2030 a less attractive option.

“It’s kind of the natural evolution of the trend that we’ve been on for the past several months,” he said, “as we’ve watched things unfold relative to the pandemic, to inflation, different things like that.”

IOC leaders made it even clearer during the local bid committee’s first face-to-face meeting with them. Last week at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, IOC president Thomas Bach and others were “fairly candid” about the obstacles in Salt Lake’s path to the 2030 Games, Lyons said during a press conference Thursday.

The LA organizing committee takes over marketing duties for the entire U.S. Olympic movement in the lead-up to hosting the Games, so reworking some of the arrangements to account for back-to-back Olympics in the same country would be tricky.

In addition, Lyons said some IOC members were frustrated with criticism of China by American lawmakers in the leadup to this year’s Beijing Games. Some of those lawmakers pointed to alleged human-rights abuses in China in calling on the U.S. to boycott those Games. The U.S. did impose a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games, refusing to send any government officials to the Games. Japan and Canada, who are also seeking to host the 2030 Olympics, imposed their own boycotts.

“You need to have everybody aligned. It’s really a complicated effort,” Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director, said during a press conference Friday. “And the advice that we have given and continue to give is, ‘Everybody pull at the same rope.’”

Members of the Salt Lake bid committee still planned to attend the Beijing Olympics as “observers” — an IOC program that allows prospective Games hosts to see the inner-workings of an Olympics — but China canceled the program a week before the opening ceremony because of COVID-19 concerns.

Congress later held hearings on the Beijing 2022 Games.

“Calling in our sponsors to hearings in Washington, D.C., was absolutely not helpful,” Lyons said, “and there are some hard feelings about that.”

Still, Lyons said IOC officials told her they know Salt Lake City, which hosted in 2002, could step into the role in 2030.

“They said the bid was, technically, very tight,” she said.

Only two other cities remain known candidates for the 2030 Winter Olympics: Sapporo, Japan, which hosted in 1972, and Vancouver, which hosted in 2010. Spain dropped its bid earlier this week after the local governments of Barcelona and the Pyrenees region failed to come to an agreement on what events each region would host.

Salt Lake’s committee has been planning around the possibility of hosting in either 2030 or 2034, so, Bullock said, the shift in focus toward 2034 shouldn’t cause any disruptions. The committee estimates the 2030 Games will cost $2.2 billion (accounting for inflation), not counting IOC royalties and revenue sharing with the USOPC. The 2034 Games are estimated to cost 10% more than that due to building improvements. Both estimate include $200 million for contingencies. Utah taxpayers, local organizers have promised, won’t be on the hook for any of those costs.

“We’re confident in the numbers we put together,” Bullock said. But, he cautioned, “If there is significant inflation for an extended period of time, we may have to increase our inflation adjustment.”

The USOPC and local organizers may be changing tracks, but they’re not withdrawing from consideration for the 2030 Games. The IOC’s Future Host Commission will make its recommendations in November and in December an executive committee will select a city or cities for a “targeted dialog.” The host of the 2030 Winter Games is expected to be finalized at the 140th IOC session in Mumbai, India, on May 31-June 1, 2023. The host of the 2034 Winter Olympics could be selected then as well.

“This doesn’t mean that we are out of the running for 2030,” Lyons said. “By the way, I will say, if we’re not 2030, I would say we got very, very favorable signs that we are certainly a leading candidate for 2034.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.