Salt Lake City’s hopes for another Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games may be delayed to 2034, the chair of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee hinted this week, because of a mix of commercial and political reasons beyond the bid group’s control.
Susanne Lyons told The Associated Press on Thursday “if we have a preference, it would be better for us to do 2034,” after her, members from the USOPC and members from the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games met with IOC officials last week in Switzerland. “This doesn’t mean that we are out of the running for 2030,” Lyons said, adding “if we’re not 2030, I would say we got very, very favorable signs that we are certainly a leading candidate for 2034.”
All along, one of the potential roadblocks for Salt Lake City hosting in 2030 was the quick turnaround from the 2028 Summer Games being in Los Angeles. There has not been consecutive Games in the same country since the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid followed by the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Lyons hinted at inflation concerns from the sponsorship and budgetary side of things given the traditional leadup that a sponsor gets ahead of an Olympic Games, saying “it is more complicated for us to host the 2030 games and try to raise the money that is needed for both L.A. and for Salt Lake.”
Financial reasons may not be the only reason that a Salt Lake City bid would be delayed, however.
“There’s some ill feelings to some extent about some of the geopolitical climate that surrounded the Beijing Games,” Lyons said Thursday. “There’s still some unhappiness at the IOC not directed toward the USOPC or the Salt Lake bid commission, but toward the U.S. government in terms of what they perceive to be a lack of support for the IOC.”
A bipartisan Congressional panel last year accused U.S-based sponsors of the IOC of putting profits ahead of human rights — “calling in our sponsors to hearings in Washington, D.C., was absolutely not helpful, and there are some hard feelings about that,” Lyons said. The U.S. held a diplomatic boycott before the Games and several politicians criticized the IOC for hosting the Games in Beijing including Senator Mitt Romney, who was the chief executive of the Salt Lake Games’ organizing committee in 2002.
“It’s increasingly important for the International Olympic Committee to consider the host nation and to stop giving the Games to authoritarian regimes,” Romney told SportsTravel during an Olympic event in February. “It’s an embarrassment for the Olympic movement to have it in Beijing, in my opinion, at the same time that genocide is being carried out against the Uyghur people and other minorities there. Having the Games in the U.S. or Canada or other free nations has to be the right course in the future.”
While there is no doubt to the IOC’s sensitivity in being called on the carpet for holding the Games in Beijing, it may also be an excuse for a broader financial motive. The IOC’s current U.S. broadcast deal with NBC, which brings in a vast majority of its worldwide television revenue and a not-so-insignificant part of its overall revenue, expires after the conclusion of the 2032 Summer Games in Australia. Having another U.S.-based Games in 2034 could potentially be used by the IOC to get a giant financial increase in a future broadcast deal whether with NBC, its longtime partner, or with an eye toward a streaming service such as Apple or Amazon.
The IOC is set in early December to choose a city — or cities — to enter into exclusive dialogue with an eye toward being awarded a future Winter Games at the IOC General Session in May 2023 in India. Along with Salt Lake City, the other cities that have declared bids for 2030 are Sapporo and Vancouver after Barcelona dropped out this week. The nightmare scenario for Salt Lake would be if the IOC decided to award Vancouver the bid for 2030 if it would want to return to another North American site for the following Winter Games; Sapporo, however, has been seen by some Olympic observers as a potential favorite with the IOC returning to Japan for a Games that would be held with fans and full sponsorship activations after the delayed 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo resulted in massive budgetary losses for the organizers.
Even as this week’s comments start to move the Salt Lake discussion back four years, Lyons said after talks with the IOC, “what could potentially still make us a 2030 candidate really is dependent on the other bids and that’s what I think the IOC now is waiting for. Our bid is a bit ahead of the bids of Sapporo and Vancouver. I think they’re waiting to see what other countries can offer.”