Utah’s chances to host the 2030 Winter Olympics just improved

British Columbia announced Wednesday it won’t back Vancouver’s bid, likely leaving the IOC to choose between Utah and Sapporo, Japan.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fraser Bullock, the president of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, introduces athletes and leaders as they get ready to light the Olympic cauldron on the 20-year anniversary of the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Opening Ceremony at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022.

And then there were two.

Utah’s odds of hosting the 2030 Winter Games improved significantly Wednesday following the announcement that British Columbia will not support Vancouver’s Olympic bid.

Without that support, it is expected the field will now be down to just Utah and Sapporo, Japan, with one expected to be singled out as soon as December.

Vancouver strived to host the first indigenous-led bid for the Olympics, but the costs and liabilities would have fallen mostly to the province of British Columbia, and its government declined to pursue the effort.

“I know that the prospect of hosting these Games is exciting to athletes and sports fans. However, the Province has the responsibility to weigh the benefits with the costs and possible risks of the project,” Lisa Beare, the British Columbia Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, said in a statement Wednesday.

“There are billions of dollars in direct costs, and potential guarantee and indemnity liability risks on this project that could jeopardize our government’s ability to address pressures facing British Columbians right now.”

Beare estimated the province stood to be on the hook for $1.2 billion in direct costs and $1 billion in liability risk, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The International Olympic Committee requires its hosts to have an entity that will assume legal liability and serve as the Games’s underwriter. B.C. did that for the Olympics in 2010. Its unwillingness to do so again does not leave Vancouver’s bid DOA, but it is a sizable dagger to the heart. The IOC’s deadline for naming that entity is in January.

British Columbia still plans to host the 2025 Invictus Games and matches in the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will also be spread around Mexico and the United States.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Olympic Committee told GamesBid.com, which broke the news, that the organization would take time time to “process” the news before responding.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC), working under the leadership of the Lil’wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, believes in the strengths of this Indigenous-led process to bring the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games back to the region,” the organization said in a statement.

In July, Vancouver’s city council approved pursuing the 2030 Games despite a report from city staff that said there wasn’t enough time for them to compile the necessary elements for a formal bid.

Still, Vancouver had been considered a strong candidate for 2030 and a pivotal player in Utah’s bid to host its second Winter Olympics.

One of Salt Lake City’s trump cards in the bid to host the Games is that it fits almost perfectly within the International Olympic Committee’s new focus on sustainability. Yet Vancouver was a model example for that new tack as well. Those two are the only Olympic sites that still have 100% of their venues in use. Like Utah, Vancouver’s Games, held in 2010, were considered a booming success. Plus, the collaboration with local Indigenous groups fit nicely into the IOC’s core values of friendship and respect.

However, the IOC likes to spread its marquee events out among different regions. And concerns had bubbled up that if either Salt Lake City or Vancouver was picked as host for 2030, that could have scuttled the other’s hopes to host in 2034 — especially since Los Angeles will hold the Summer Games in 2028.

Fraser Bullock, who is leading the effort to return the Olympics to Utah as the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said B.C.’s withdrawal underscores how challenging it can be to get all the pieces in place to make a bid.

“I applaud them for their efforts in trying to host the Games because hosting the Games is immensely challenging,” Bullock said. “So I applaud them for giving it a try. But it is understandable why, with the background of British Columbia, they are withdrawing. We just respect the effort they put in to try to host again.”

Sapporo, the 1972 Winter Games host now Utah’s only competition, has undergone its own difficulties of late. Only about half the people in the Hokkaido region support hosting the Games compared to nearly 80% in Utah. Plus, a bribery scandal that occurred during the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo cast a shadow over another Japanese bid.

Bullock said Vancouver’s withdrawal does not change anything in regard to how Utah will approach the bid process.

“For us, we just continue forward,” he said. “It doesn’t change our path.”

Next month, the IOC’s Future Host Commission is expected to recommend a host for the 2030 Games to the IOC’s executive board. The board could enter into a targeted dialog phase with a city by early December. If the city it chooses at that time is able to fulfill all its contracts and obligations, it is almost guaranteed to be named the host at the IOC’s general meeting in October 2023.