The Olympic Rings are pictured covered in snow at the Olympic and Paralympic Cauldron Plaza in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Even with two unidentified contenders vying to host a Winter Games, Salt Lake City is the clear front-runner, according to the new chairman of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
The International Olympic Committee, like the USOPC, wants Utah’s capital to wait to host until 2034 and “they have been looking to find a city that will offer a good alternative to Salt Lake City for 2030,” the chairman, Gene Sykes, told reporters Thursday.
But he said the IOC is running into issues with others in the race, a list the Switzerland-based organization recently confirmed includes two places that have not been named in addition to Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, Canada; and a possible bid from Sweden.
“The question about which cities or communities are really capable of being hosts for the Winter Games is a big question that the IOC has to deal with very, very thoroughly,” Sykes said during a telephone news conference following USOPC meetings in Atlanta.
The IOC, which last December postponed picking a 2030 host likely until some time next year, has found “almost every other city has some limitation, either by capability or local support or something else,” he said.
Asked if it was fair to have places in the running that have not been publicly named by the IOC, Sykes said “there’s no issue of fairness. It’s really just a matter of understanding what their options are.”
He said he believes “very strongly they understand the advantages Salt Lake City has to every other potential host,” and that the IOC has “the same preference we do for 2034 — if possible.”
That preference stems from another American city, Los Angeles, hosting the 2028 Summer Games and the potential impact on domestic sponsorship revenues if the Winter Games are held in Salt Lake City just 18 months later.
Sykes, who led L.A.’s Olympic bid, did not offer any details about the shortcomings of the places competing with Salt Lake City to host a Winter Games. Nor did he name the other contenders, which could include a so-called “European super bid.”
Both Sapporo and Vancouver are struggling with sinking public support.
Sapporo has gone so far as to pause its bid because of the fallout from an Olympic bribery and bid-rigging scandal involving the 2020 Summer Games held in Tokyo a year late due to COVID-19.
Vancouver saw its plans falter for what would be the first Indigenous-led Olympics when the British Columbia government rejected a request to commit more than $1 billion toward hosting.
Sweden, however, already is seen as a strong candidate for 2030 even though a bid has not been formally launched. Stockholm bid unsuccessfully for the 2026 Winter Games that went to Milano-Cortina, Italy.
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, has said backers of the bid are “actually cheering for someone else to come forward for 2030. … Our best hope is that there’s a great candidate for 2030 and we come in for 2034.”
Sykes had plenty of praise for the bid to bring another Olympics to Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games, after he and other USOPC officials visited Utah last month and met with state and local leaders.
He repeated the sentiment expressed during the visit by the CEO of the USOPC, Sarah Hirshland, declaring “it’s fair to say there will not be bids from any other hosts which will be more attractive to the IOC than a bid from Salt Lake City.”
Utah’s commitment to winter sports through maintaining the state’s Olympic facilities from 2002 and supporting the bid “is remarkable,” he said, citing a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll that found 82% of Utahns approve of hosting again.
“It’s a story that everyone who loves the Games and winter sports should embrace. It’s truly a legacy in action,” Sykes said, noting the Utah Legislature unanimously agreed “to accept the responsibility to host the Games either in 2030 or ’34” during the USOPC visit.
The USOPC, which selected Salt Lake City over Denver in 2018 to bid on behalf of the U.S., is “happy to be partners” with Utah’s bid team, he said. “They’ve really got their act together and we’re very, very pleased with where they stand.”