Why the IOC may have a ‘hard time saying no’ to Salt Lake City as it files Olympic bid

Apr 27, 2023, 5:12 PM

Winter Games breakfast...

Members of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games speak during the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Newsmaker Breakfast at the Thomas S. Monson Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 27, 2023. (Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

(Ryan Sun, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Fraser Bullock says the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games should have about 95% of its official proposal to host the 2030 Winter Olympics and Paralympics ready by the end of next month.

The document includes “thousands of pages,” filled with hundreds of various contracts needed for the city and state to host the major global event, said Bullock, the committee’s president and CEO, during an event hosted by the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Thursday morning. It’s ultimately up to the International Olympic Committee to select a host city.

He expects the Utah committee may find out as early as October who is hosting the 2030 Games or, potentially, who is hosting the 2030 and 2034 Games — if they are dually awarded. If not then, it could be announced sometime next year. While Salt Lake City’s paperwork aims at the 2030 Games, it is also flexible, to take on the event in 2034.

“2023 is going to be a very exciting year in terms of pushing our bid forward,” he said.

Bullock made those remarks as the Gardner Policy Institute published a new report suggesting Utah is ready to take on the social and environmental challenges of hosting a large-scale event as it did in 2002. It finds that volunteerism rates and plans to head toward renewable energy in Utah align with some of the goals outlined by the IOC.

Thursday’s roundtable discussion included members of Utah’s committee, as well as environmental and research experts, gathered to talk about the impacts of a future event in the state. Catherine Raney Normal, chairwoman of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, added that the new report reaffirms what those behind the effort already believed — that Salt Lake City and Utah make a strong case to host again.

“We are prepared as possible for when … the IOC makes a decision,” she said. “They (will) have a really hard time saying no to us.”

Social and environmental impacts of another Utah Olympics

Thursday’s report builds on a study the institute compiled last year on the economic impacts of hosting an Olympics in Salt Lake City, according to Nate Lloyd, director of economic research at the Gardner Policy Institute and one of the report’s authors.

The institute previously estimated hosting the 2030 Olympics has the potential to deliver a “cumulative total economic impact of about $3.9 billion in output, while producing 30,000 job-years of employment and $1.5 billion in personal income. It also has the potential to produce $22 million in net revenue for the state and $42 million in net revenue for local governments.

Utah could pull it off without building any new venues because it has maintained the venues built ahead of the 2002 Games, such as the Utah Olympic Oval, in Kearns, and Utah Olympic Park, in Park City.

This time around, a team of researchers reviewed all sorts of data tied to social and environmental impacts associated with hosting the event.

For instance, they estimated that about 25,000 people will be needed to volunteer during the festivities in order for it to run smoothly, something for which Utah might be well-suited. The Commission for National and Community Service issued a report in 2018 that found a little more than half of all Utahns volunteer in some form, much higher than the national average of nearly 33%.

Other studies in recent years have ranked Utah either No. 1 in volunteering or near the top. It was major a hurdle that Utah easily cleared when nearly 70,000 people applied for about 21,000 volunteer jobs needed when Salt Lake City hosted the event in 2002.

“So that just sets the ground nicely for the huge need for volunteers to … put on a successful Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” Lloyd said.

The report adds that the Olympics have the potential to build on civic pride and social capital in Utah, including improvements to “social connections among family and friends, who congregate to volunteer to welcome the world to Utah.” The 2002 venues that remain open for use have helped encourage indoor and outdoor sports recreation, which is considered good for physical and mental health.

Utah has also “taken several important steps” to boost social inclusion, such as policies that ban discrimination and improve equity over the past decade. The Games would only “continue improving Utah’s culture of equity, diversity and inclusion,” the authors of the study wrote.

As for impacts on the environment, the report outlines short-term and long-term impacts. The major event is expected to bring in more air and ground traffic, water consumption and waste, which can be “mitigated,” Lloyd explained. It may lead to fewer skiing days on the slopes and more remote working in the region, though. There may be carbon credits to offset the impact of the event, something host cities have done in recent years.

He points out that public transportation has greatly expanded since 2002, so that can help with some of the traffic woes and reduce emissions. Meanwhile, with only small construction anticipated ahead of the event, there are fewer long-term impacts associated with construction.

“When you look back at the 2002 Games, there was about $480 million put into capital expenditures — for buildings, for venues, for public roads. It’s only expected to be about $23 million the next time around,” Lloyd said. “It’s a much smaller footprint on the environment.”

The report concludes that Utah’s demographic, social and environmental factors “create a backdrop for Utah to host another successful Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”

A ‘climate-positive’ event

The environmental factor is a big key to hosting the event, especially as the IOC looks for more “climate-positive” Games because the long-term future is looking bleak for the event at the moment.

2022 study conducted by Loughborough University in the United Kingdom found that fewer than half of the previous Winter Games host cities will have enough snowfall to host the Olympics by 2050. The same study suggested Salt Lake City would continue to have enough snowfall until about 2080, if warming trends continue, possibly threatening the ability to hold any of the outdoor events.

The roundtable panelists acknowledged Thursday that Salt Lake City has a goal to reach net-100% renewable electricity by 2030, mirroring goals in Park City. The 80-megawatt Elektron Solar Project in Tooele County is expected to be a big contributor to that. The massive solar farm was originally expected to go online by March but hit several major snags in the supply chain; it may go online by the end of this year.

Sarah Wright, the executive director of Utah Clean Energy, said the efforts to reach this goal ahead of the Olympics could end up having an everlasting impact on Salt Lake County and the region much like Utah Transit Authority’s TRAX did ahead of the 2002 Games.

“We know we have to address climate change not only to ensure winter sports but to ensure the quality of life for all Utahns,” she said.

Bullock agrees, adding that he believes there is a “perfect alignment” in the “trends, desires and ambitions” of both Utah and the IOC. He also thinks that the Olympics could help Utah advance its renewable goal faster, as the two sides dwell on this issue.

“It’s a perfect overlap, where Utah is already moving in this direction,” he said. “The existence of winter sport is at risk, so for us, where winter sport is so important, being completely aligned with what the IOC wants to do, it’s a natural fit.”

It’s another reason the IOC may have a difficult time saying no to the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee’s offer.

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Why the IOC may have a ‘hard time saying no’ to Salt Lake City as it files Olympic bid