Olympics in Utah every 20 years? Salt Lake City could be part of a Winter Games rotation

IOC delays decision on 2030 host to consider a format more resistant to climate change

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Olympic cauldron 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. The International Olympic Committee announced on Dec. 6, 2022, that it would begin evaluating locations for a potential rotation of future host cities.

Salt Lake City has said it’s ready, able and willing to host another Olympic Games whenever called upon.

But is the region willing to make a habit of it?

The International Olympic Committee may be asking that question in the coming months after its executive board decided Tuesday to table a decision on where the 2030 Winter Games would be held and instead make a considerable pivot. With climate change eroding its options for Winter Games hosts, it has decided to seriously consider a rotation of Winter Olympics hosts. That means, if selected, Salt Lake City could be guaranteed to hold the Olympics perhaps every 20-30 years instead of having to rebid.

Jacqueline Barrett, the IOC’s director of future Olympic Games hosts, said the novel consideration “is to ensure there is a longtime future for winter sports and the winter sports industry.”

Among the considerations the IOC may make in determining what sites it will select for the rotation — if it does go that route — is whether the average temperature at the site over the past 10 years has been at or below freezing. Fraser Bullock, the CEO and president of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said his group had previously done an analysis of the state’s viability to host through 2050 and that it met “all of the criteria.”

The IOC will hold off naming a host, or even a finalist, for the 2030 and 2034 Games as it analyzes the pros and cons of the rotation approach.

“So there’s no decision next year for the awarding,” said Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games executive director. “Targeted dialog, we’ll see.”

Prior to the IOC’s decision, the host of the 2030 Olympics looked like it would come down to two former hosts: Salt Lake City, which held the Winter Games in 2002, and Sapporo, Japan, which had them in 1972.

A third potential host was Vancouver, host of the 2010 Games, whose bid piqued interest in part because it was the first Indigenous-led effort. It seemed to receive a fatal blow, however, when British Columbia refused to serve as the underwriter for the Games. Yet according to GamesBids.com, organizers of Vancouver’s bid weren’t giving up. They delivered a presentation to the Future Host Committee via a video conference late last month — as did organizing committees from Sapporo and SLC.

Ukraine and Spain also expressed interest in the 2030 Winter Olympics as late as last year. However, the conflict with Russia has kept Ukraine from contending and Spain’s bid met its end this summer when the two hosting regions could not come to an agreement on how to divvy up events.

Because it is not entering a “targeted dialog” with a potential host, Barrett said the IOC will continue to welcome interest from other sites that want to stage the Games.

Bullock expressed some disappointment that a decision on the 2030 and 2034 hosts won’t be made next year. Nonetheless, he noted, it might work out in Salt Lake City’s favor because the IOC might then be more likely to name the hosts of both Games in 2024. If Utah gets the 2034 Games — as it would prefer because of the otherwise short runway between it and the Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2028 — it would still have a decade to prepare.

Even with a shorter timeline, though, he said Utah could make it work.

“We’ve got the venues, all the pieces in place,” he said. “Probably the one negative is that you have a shorter time frame to bring domestic sponsors and the domestic sponsors have a shorter time frame to activate their sponsorship.”

Even so, he held to his promise that local taxpayers would not have to fund any of the estimated $2.4 billion it will cost to host the games. He said the committee had already accounted for that type of scenario when it made its budget to host shortly after L.A.

As far as joining a Winter Games rotation, Bullock said it seemed like it could be an ideal situation for Utah.

“The rotation actually is an intriguing opportunity because we have everything in place,” he said. “We have different economics than a new city that doesn’t have venues in place. We have the expertise. We’re the state of sport, we have competitions all the time. This would naturally fit into our branding of the State of Sport. So we think it’s an interesting, intriguing opportunity.”

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee in 2018 selected Salt Lake City over Denver as the city it would put forth as its candidate to host the U.S.’s next Winter Olympics.