Calgary may have taken itself off the list of cities vying to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, but another North American winter sports destination — Salt Lake City, Utah — could be a serious contender for the 2030 Games. Like Calgary did in 1988, Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002.
In mid-December, Salt Lake City officials received the go-ahead to bid on the Games and have set their sights on 2030.
Officials in Utah’s capital city estimate another Olympic bid could cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion, in large part because of the venues and infrastructure still in place from 2002. By comparison, Russia spent an estimated $51 billion on the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. In addition to the Utah Olympic Oval, Vivint Smart Home Arena has been upgraded recently, and Rice Eccles Stadium is expanding, too, according to Fox 13 Newsin Salt Lake City.
A legislative audit of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation released in October 2017 revealed that an additional $40 million in public funds would be needed to upgrade them in order to host Winter Olympics events.
“The IOC is struggling to find cities willing to take on the financial and societal burden of hosting the Winter Olympics,” reports the Deseret News. “The race to host the 2026 Winter Olympics is down to just two cities [Milan, Italy, and Stockholm, Sweden], after several dropped out over a lack of local support. Beijing got the 2022 Winter Olympics by attrition, winning by four votes over Almaty, Kazakhstan, after a half-dozen European bidders dropped out, discouraged by soaring costs and taxpayer backlash.”
Longtime Olympics observers may recall that the 2002 Salt Lake City Games were defined by a 1998 bribery scandal, in which the city’s bid committee “doled out $1 million in cash, scholarships, medical care, gifts and other favors to IOC members and their families,” according to the newspaper. “That included ski trips, NBA tickets, plastic surgery, knee replacements, violins and housing and salary for children of IOC members.” Salt Lake City was chosen to host the 2002 Games over cities in Canada, Sweden and Switzerland.
“But these days, the International Olympic Committee is not in a position to be overly picky,” Jules Boykoff, a Pacific University professor who has written widely on the Olympics, told the Deseret News.
Support for another Salt Lake City Olympics is running high, with some polls indicating as many as 89 percent of Utahns would be in favor of hosting again, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
The newspaper’s reporters asked those who oppose another bid why they took that position, and here’s what they found out: “Among the dissenters are those who say that the Games would not serve Utahns, that say there are bigger, more pressing issues to deal with. Many worry the Games would only exacerbate Utah’s environmental concerns — chiefly air quality. Others were skeptical of the funding, despite Salt Lake City officials saying these Games will be funded entirely by the private sector, with the exception of security provided by the federal government. Some don’t want to experience further gridlock on highways and roads, while others say the city and state are losing the luster of being a hidden gem as the population continues to soar. Some responses mentioned the cost of living is already rising too high.”
“People should have one eyebrow raised, because [the estimated $1.5 billion cost is] a really low number, and I know they’re counting on using existing venues, but they’re still going to have to be building,” Deeda Seed, a former Salt Lake City councilwoman during the 2002 Games, told the Tribune. “It just hasn’t been thought out. I think people are just excited. I saw this last time. ‘We’ll be the center of global attention.’ And they don’t think through all of the consequences.”