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Should Salt Lake City pursue another Winter Olympic Games?
In February, in conjunction with the 10 year anniversary of the 2002 Olympic Games staged in Salt Lake City, Utah Governor Herbert announced the formation of a 15 member exploratory committee tasked with researching whether or not Salt Lake City should pursue another winter Olympic Games bid, perhaps as soon as 2022. The initial exploratory process would include looking at public and private support for the Games, costs for formal bids, costs for infrastructure and upgrading the facilities from 2002, transportation needs, and comparing the competition from other potential U.S. host cities, of which Denver and Reno/Tahoe are believed to be contenders as well.
“I vote yes” said committee member Eric Heiden at the announcement. Heiden, who won 5 gold medals at the 1980 games in Lake Placid, is a Park City physician, and one of three former Olympic athletes on the committee. “The direct benefits of the games are certainly for the economy from visitors, but also with the infrastructure that is part of the Olympic legacy. Public transit has expanded greatly since the 2002 games, and the social aspects are beneficial as well, kids get into outdoor sports, and residents of the communities are inspired to pursue healthy lifestyles. Also, because of the venues, world class athletes continue to come to Utah, and the international community is exposed to what Utah has to offer” said Heiden. “Before the 2002 Olympics, I was like everyone else that looked at Utah differently, but once I came here, and seeing what the State has to offer I found it was a wonderful place to live. “
Economic benefits are certainly one of the prime motivators for pursuing a bid, and Salt Lake City turned a nice profit from the 2002 games, and also has a lasting legacy in the form of world-class venues that continue to attract international events and athletes for competitions and training throughout the year.
“Those 16 days in February 2002 may have been the brightest in our state history,” said Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, who served as the state’s chief Olympic officer. “We have proven we can host an extraordinary Olympics and we would love to have the opportunity to try to do even better the next time.”
“A decade after our state welcomed the world, we continue to benefit from our role as an Olympic host city,” said Beattie.”The Games boosted our state economy by $4.8 billion including 35,000 job years of employment and $1.5 billion in earnings for Utah workers. The 2002 Olympic Winter Games are the gift that keeps on giving.”
“The true benefits to our community cannot be measure in dollars alone,” continued Beattie. “The civic pride that comes with membership in the prestigious group of Olympic cities, our broadened view of the world and the power of partnership, and our appreciation of the Olympic spirit of competition enhance our community.”
Initial response for support the bid has been “enthusiastic” so far according to committee members. Beattie will be determining support from local businesses along with Spencer Eccles Jr., executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “In 2002 Utah demonstrated to the world that we could host the finest Winter Olympics Games ever produced. Now as we examine whether Utah should bid again for the winter games, the world has another reason to focus its attention on the State,” said Eccles. “As ‘The State of Sport’ and ‘The Best Place for Business and Careers,’ Utah has proven that it is both the place that the world loves to play and a place that business needs to be.”
Despite having the existing facilities, infrastructure, and record of a successful games in the past may not serve as a barometer for securing a successful bid. Disadvantages Salt Lake may face include memories by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over the bidding process of the 2002 games, which were rocked by a well documented bribery scandal in which IOC members were lavished with gifts and cash in return for votes to hold the games. Several members of that organizing committee were forced to resign, even though the bribery process was rumored to exist in previous Olympic bids before Salt Lake. “In addition, the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) who have say where the games are held, would like to spread the event around so that other people can have the experience like we had in 2002. These could be potentially the things that might be held against us” said Heiden. “The bid process however has become a lot more structured on what you can do and what you can’t do” continued Heiden, “we do however have to be cautious on who we talk to, and the relationships that we develop so that there is no potential or perceived conflict of interest. The IOC is being very careful to avoid anything like the bid scandal from happening again.”
The exploratory committee is scheduled to forward their recommendation to the Governor in May or June, with the cost estimated at around $30,000. To pursue the bid further with a presentation to the IOC would cost around $10 million. After the 2002 Games, Salt Lake ended up with a surplus of $100 million, and a $76 million endowment to run and maintain Olympic facilities.
Salt Lake is not the only U.S. city considering a future bid, California and Nevada officials recently announced that they are also forming an exploratory committee for a potential bid, with the two states merging separate committees in an attempt to lure the games back to the Lake Tahoe area. The region also hosted previous games with Squaw Valley being the venue for the 1960 Olympics. Denver is also believed to be a strong candidate for a future bid, and Bozeman, MT is interested in hosting the games as well. In the bidding process, a city prepares a bid that is submitted to the USOC, which then carries the selected city bid forward to the IOC. The U.S. Olympic Committee has to decide by 2013 whether to submit a formal bid and promote a single nominee for 2022.
USOC Officials have said the committee will not bid for any Games until it agrees on a new revenue-sharing deal with the International Olympic Committee. The U.S. lost bids for the 2012 games in New York and 2016 games in Chicago. Negotiations aimed at resolving the dispute over the U.S. share of Olympic television and marketing revenues began more than a year ago. The IOC believes the American cut is excessive and should be redistributed. Under the current deal, the USOC receives a 20 percent share of global sponsorship revenue and a 12.7 percent share of U.S. broadcast rights deals. Any new formula would go into effect after 2020. A decision about 2022 likely will not come until July 2015, giving the states plenty of time to prepare a compelling bid.
When asked about Salt Lake City’s potential bid, Mark Jones of the USOC responded “We are not currently contemplating a bid for the Olympic or Olympic Winter Games.” When asked if the USOC would support a bid by Salt Lake or any other city for the Games on U.S. soil, White declined to comment, noting “only the national Olympic committee (USOC) can bid. A city cannot bid on its own.”
Still, “we have definitely been doing our due diligence talking with people on both sides of the Wasatch making sure our facilities are ready, the ski areas, talking with our venue directors. It’s been time consuming” said Heiden. “I wish I could give you an answer on the current sentiments of the USOC, I don’t know what their feelings are. The people here I have talked to are very interested in doing this once again. The more I’m involved, the more it becomes obvious what a big effort it is. It’s a lot of work; you have to rely on a lot of people to have the same vision to get an Olympics. Part of the exploratory committee job is to due this due diligence to make sure that it will be successful if we want to bring this back.”
What are your thoughts? Should Utah move ahead in the bidding process for another future Olympic Games in Salt Lake City? Go to www.utahadvjournal.com to cast your vote, and leave any comments. You can also dig into our editorial archives from winter 2011 for an article on the 10 year anniversary of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.