A future Olympics in Utah is worth pursuing, but only if bid organizers and Olympic officials have learned from history and provide a clean and transparent process.
When Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Games, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee became embroiled in scandal due to its opaque financial dealings and ethically reprehensible bidding techniques that included cash payments, college tuition breaks, lavish vacations and Super Bowl tickets for members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
It's not worth losing the state's soul to win the games.
And yet, in a show of remarkable naïveté, there is currently little financial transparency or accountability of the Utah Sports Commission, which is set up “to be a catalyst for Utah in its Olympic legacy efforts.”
It's not entirely clear what being a "catalyst" for Olympic legacy efforts entails, but certainly financial transparency would help answer that question.
As we've pointed out before, in 2015, Utah lawmakers amended HB22 so the Sports Commission no longer has to provide a “complete" financial accounting to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Given the state's history, taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent by the body that may be charged with laying the groundwork for an Olympic bid. If officials fear public scrutiny of dollars spent on wooing IOC members, they should have more faith in the Utah voter. Citizens understand that a viable Olympic bid takes money, travel and a healthy amount of fine dining.
On Monday, commentators suggested that Salt Lake’s chances to host a 2030 Winter Olympics were strengthened when the International Olympic Committee announced it was seeking an agreement with Paris and Los Angeles to host the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games. This sparked talk that the IOC may look for a repeat venue, like Salt Lake City, for the Winter Games as well.
“I think it’s a far greater opportunity for Salt Lake City today than it was yesterday,” said Ed Hula, editor and founder of the online Olympic news source Around the Rings. “The IOC is looking for cities which are willing and able to host the Olympics in a sustainable, economical, practical way, and that was one of the things that made Salt Lake City such an appeal a generation ago.”
To ensure that the games aren’t once again caught in revelations of unethical behavior during the bidding process, Utah should add oversight and sunshine to the Utah Sports Commission’s financial dealings and the financial dealings of any subsequent organizing committee.
As we've said in the past, the costs of an Olympic bid must never include the state’s reputation.