Here’s why Utah’s governor says latest IOC decision is ‘next best thing’ to getting another Olympics
Oct 18, 2023, 7:50 PM | Updated: 8:00 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — The International Olympic Committee isn’t making any promises about Salt Lake City getting the 2034 Winter Games despite it being the only city in the race, but there’s still plenty of enthusiasm from Utah’s bid team.
“There’s no question that the process has been complicated,” Gov. Spencer Cox said at a news conference Wednesday touting the IOC’s decision this weekend to pursue a dual award of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games. “This is their clearest signal yet.”
The governor said that wouldn’t have happened if the Switzerland-based IOC wasn’t “very interested” in holding the 2034 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, an event that would cap what he called “Utah’s decade.”
The Olympic bid “allows us to dream big,” Cox said, citing efforts to bring new Major League Baseball and National Hockey League teams to the state and crediting the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City with sparking Utah’s economic and other successes.
“Honestly, that changed everything,” the governor said.
But he acknowledged a need to keep the momentum behind the bid for another Winter Games going.
Salt Lake City is bidding to host in either 2030 or 2034, but wants to wait until the later date to avoid competing for domestic sponsors with the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The other bids in the running, from Sweden, Switzerland and France, are only for 2030.
In the coming weeks, IOC leaders are expected to advance what could be multiple picks for the upcoming Winter Games to months of detailed contract negotiations before their “preferred hosts” are sent to the full membership for a final vote in mid-2024.
“We don’t want Utahns to lose interest,” Cox said, describing the reason for the news conference held in the Salt Lake City and County Building as emphasizing “this is a really big announcement.”
After more than a decade of bidding, “this is as close to an award as we have gotten,” the governor said. “That’s why you see so much excitement here. Because next to saying, ‘We award the Games to Salt Lake City,’ this is the next best thing.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the benefits from hosting in 2002 “are built into our culture and our communities,” resulting in a “truly unmatched” 82% of Utahns backing the bid in a February Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.
“We don’t want to gamble with that support,” the mayor said. “Even with the ambiguity of the process, we know that they will be making some decisions in just the next several months. So we’re almost there.”
Utah State Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said elected officials throughout the state are unified behind the bid. The 2023 Legislature unanimously approved legislation that makes the state ultimately responsible for the privately funded Olympics.
“The Games, for me, are more than just the Games,” Adams said. “They represent the spirit of Utah.”
No guarantees of a dual award but Salt Lake City’s bid seen as ‘on track’
The possibility of a dual award was hailed earlier in the day at a virtual Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games meeting as “really a critical milestone and a step forward for us,” by Catherine Raney Norman, the committee’s chair.
But a dual award — which could shave years off Utah’s wait to find out if another Olympics is coming — can only be done “should appropriate conditions exist,” Raney Norman stressed during the virtual bid committee meeting.
“So I just want to make sure everyone recognizes that last bit,” she said.
Just what those conditions are is not entirely clear. The IOC has set deadlines for completing a massive pile of paperwork required from bids that advance to the next stage of the bidding process, known as targeted dialogue.
Salt Lake City has already finished compiling nearly all of the information, including signed contracts for venues and hotel rooms. Bullock said staying ahead of the process, part of the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms, is key to showing that Utah is ready to host again.
At IOC meetings in India that ended earlier this week, Salt Lake City was identified for the first time as the only contender for 2034. Two longtime 2030 bids, from Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada, appear to be officially out of the running for either Winter Games.
“We have always let the IOC know we’re available to them, if needed” for 2030, Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the bid committee, said, calling Sweden, Switzerland and France “very strong countries that are strong in sports.”
They’re expected “to come forward with very strong bids and we’re hopeful for them,” Bullock said, adding, “We feel like we’re in good shape. It doesn’t mean everything is guaranteed at this point. It just means we’re on track.”
What the IOC says about dual award for 2030, 2034 Winter Games
Authorization for a dual award was intended to allow more time for the IOC to deal with the impact of global warming on the Winter Games, including possibly rotating future editions among a pre-selected group of hosts able to provide cold enough temperatures.
When the IOC signed off on selecting the 2030 and 2034 sites at the same time, it looked as if Salt Lake City might have finally locked up another Olympics after a decision on advancing bids was delayed last December.
But then IOC President Thomas Bach made a point of telling reporters a dual award isn’t guaranteed. Instead, he explained that the decision made wasn’t that “there will be (a dual award). The decision was that there could be one.”
Asked later how Bach would explain the bid process to Utahns, the IOC media team said he’s made it clear it’s “now up to the Future Host Commission to decide whether to make a recommendation to open a targeted dialogue with one or more preferred hosts.”
Under the new bid process, the media team said, “timelines are flexible, to take into account the context of the interested parties, reflecting the philosophy of Olympic Agenda 2020 that the Games should adapt to the host and not the host to the Games.”
Utah’s governor said he already knows what he wants to tell the IOC during his portion of the bid team’s virtual presentation to the Future Host Commission that’s scheduled for Nov. 21.
“Utah is the most prepared state for a Winter Olympics in the history of the Winter Olympics,” Cox said. “We could hold the Olympics next year if we had to.”