Still no clear path for Salt Lake City Winter Olympic bid after trip to Switzerland

A high-level trip to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Lausanne headquarters on the picturesque shores of Lake Geneva Wednesday confirmed to the Salt Lake City Olympic bid team that its Winter Games project is on the right track.  But the question remains – which track?

Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzlerland (IOC Photo)

Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland (IOC Photo)

The influential delegation led by the bid’s president and CEO Fraser Bullock packed some star power with Olympic champion ski racer Lindsey Vonn who has agreed to serve as chair of the Athletes’ Experience, and the team joined technical experts and IOC President Thomas Bach for a single day of meetings.

Bid chair and Olympic speedskater Catherine Raney Norman also made the trip along with director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs Nubia Peña and consultant Darren Hughes.  This first in-person meeting held on the IOC’s home turf follows what was considered a successful site visit to Utah made by IOC technical experts in April.  Previous planned visits had to be postponed due to ongoing waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s just something about that human-to-human connection that is very warm,” Bullock told reporters Wednesday according to Utah-based Deseret News.

“One of the things that we felt in particular was the sense of partnership.  We all want to do what’s best for the Olympic movement, and that came through, that we all want to be together in this journey.”

But the path to Salt Lake City’s second Winter Olympics remains as murky as the destination.  Bid leadership remains steadfast in its desire to host its next edition as soon as possible, in 2030. But various factors could complicate that schedule, including the calendar that shows the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games concluding only 18 months ahead of the Winter Games opening.

That conflict would likely dilute the pool of lucrative domestic sponsorships available for both U.S.-based Games, and could impact ticket and souvenir sales.  The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and LA 2028 are stakeholders in this process and will have a say in how things play out.  Geopolitics will also come into play and the IOC might prefer to avoid holding consecutive marquee events in the same nation.

A Games in 2034 has been mooted as a backup plan for Salt Lake City.

“Our position is, we will host a Games when it is in the best interest of the Olympic movement and all the pieces fit together as best we can. We’re trying to make those pieces fit together as soon as we can,” Bullock said,

“There’s no definitive answer at all yet, and we won’t expect that until probably well in the targeted dialog,” he added describing a process expected to run from December until next May.

But according to the IOC’s published process, there should be a clear answer much earlier, at least by December 7 when the organization’s Executive Board is expected to announce bids, or “preferred hosts” to be considered for the Targeted Dialogue phase.

According to the IOC rules Targeted Dialogue is “a defined period during which the IOC Executive Board targets one or more Preferred Hosts to develop a project for a specific edition of the Games” (emphasis added).

Other obstacles that could push the American bid four years later are rival bids from Japan, Canada and possibly Spain with all three projects – like Salt Lake City – pursuing a second Games.

Sapporo is pushing forward for 2030 after hosting the first Asia-based Winter Olympics in 1972.  The capital of the northern Hokkaido province is well into a public engagement campaign and has published detailed bid plans.

On Tuesday an Indigenous-led bid to based in British Columbia, Canada unveiled draft project plans for 2030 after completing a feasibility study for the possible Games.  No commitments have been made, however, as all partners must make assessments and agree to move forward – a process that might take months to complete.  Vancouver last hosted the Games in 2010.

A proposed joint bid by the Pyrenees and Barcelona in Spain is currently on hold while partners from Catalonia and Aragon remain in a stalemate over venue allocation.  Barcelona hopes to be only the second city to stage both the Winter and Summer Games but political infighting is holding the project back.

In April the IOC laid out a possible 2030 bid timetable for the first time that would lead to a host election at its Session in Mumbai, India on May 30, 2023.  But under the new IOC process long-term timetables remain flexible and there is no reason that targeted dialogue for two editions of the Games can’t run simultaneously.

If a Salt Lake City bid were to land in 2034 instead of 2030, there would be no reason for the IOC to wait and make that election further down the road.  With IOC President Bach’s term ending in 2025, the election of Salt Lake City now would ensure that it happens under his watch.

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