Proponents of Salt Lake City’s Winter Olympics bid have delayed plans to visit International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland by a week, the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games (SLC-UT) announced last weekend. On Monday, the bid committee further clarified that the planned in-person meeting will now be held online.
The visit by a high-level delegation from Utah aimed at securing the state’s second Winter Games in 2030 or 2034 was intended to begin in the Olympic capital Monday (Nov. 29), but according the Deseret News, the meeting with the IOC Future Host Commission and other officials has now been pushed to December 6 in order to accommodate the availability of additional participants.
Efforts to ensure that more stakeholders are involved could point to the escalating importance of the meeting, and the potential that critical decisions might be made.
“It’s just part of an ongoing dialog that is very flexible,” President and CEO of SLC-UT Fraser Bullock said, downplaying the calendar shift.
But with the new Omicron COVID-19 variant quickly emerging and forcing travel restrictions worldwide, plans to meet in person have been discarded in favor of a safer, shorter online event. An in person meeting will be scheduled after the Beijing 2002 Winter Games in February.
“The whole world is wondering right now about the COVID surge and the omicron variant, so prudence is wise,” Bullock told Deseret News.
“Our first priority is everybody needs to be kept safe. Given today’s virtual world, we can accomplish much of what we’d like to do, although ultimately the in-person relationship is very important as well.”
Officials from the bid, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and the IOC have already met online and have been involved in the informal ‘continuous dialogue’ phase of the new site selection process. But next Monday’s in-person meeting was seen as a key milestone that may have led to a decision on whether SLC aims to host in 2030 or 2034.
Bid officials have hinted that they are more interested in the earlier Games so they can better utilize aging venues left as legacies from the 2002 Games, but the already scheduled Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games in the United States only 18 months earlier could crowd SLC out of the lucrative sponsorship and marketing window. The USOPC has involved LA 2028 officials in the discussions.
The IOC has not laid out a timetable for the selection of the 2030 Winter Games host, but as the organization demonstrated when Brisbane was unexpectedly awarded the 2032 Summer Games this year – an announcement on the earlier 2030 Games could come at any time.
New IOC policies make clear that the international body will not share any details about ongoing dialogue with potential host cities, including any jurisdictions represented or what meeting have been held. Instead, they leave it up to the interested bidders to share information as they see fit.
Any information on the status of the bid race is sourced from the bids themselves, including details of next week’s SLC-UT meeting with the IOC.
From what we do know, the meeting will be an opportunity for the IOC to narrow in on a 2030 host amid uncertainty in the developing race. This week Sapporo’s mayor announced a proposed Games budget cut of at least 25 percent after Japan’s bid faced pushback from those already soured by Tokyo 2020’s massive cost over runs and revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This softening of plans comes ahead of a planned public opinion poll to be held next year to gauge local interest in the project.
A joint bid from Pyrenees-Barcelona in Spain has been mired in political wrangling among regional stakeholders, and residents in the mountain region who oppose the project have been pushing for a referendum that could be held next year.
Strong pre-pandemic interest in a bid from Vancouver in Canada has since cooled as public opinion polls show less residents in the province are willing to commit to a 2010 Games sequel.
A fledgling bid from Ukraine has also entered into dialogue with the IOC, but it may be too late for a strong run at 2030.
According to many recent polls and messaging by politicians across Utah, a Winter Games in Salt Lake City would be warmly welcomed and could be delivered with low risk and minimal costs by leveraging the legacies of the 2002 Winter Games.
SLC represents the kind of opportunity that the IOC may want to close this month if all stakeholders are on board, and could allow for an announcement ahead of the Beijing 2022 Games in February. Ending the race early could also prevent any further referendums or polling by interested bidders that typically don’t end positively for Olympic proponents and only server to erode the Olympic brand.
The 2026 Winter Games will be staged jointly by Milan and Cortina in Italy.
[Updated 11/29/21 9:00 PM ET to reflect plans to hold meeting virtually due to emerging omicron COVID-19 variant]