Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
FILE - Mitt Romney, second from right, greets Maureen Andrus, Mary Lou Kohout and Owen Andrus, left to right, at the 2002 Winter Olympics 15th Anniversary Community Festival at Soldier Hollow in Midway on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney said Tuesday that while he wants to see the Olympics return to Utah, another bid may have to take a back seat for now to the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

"The first priority has to be supporting the Games in Los Angeles," Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, told the Deseret News in an interview. "They have to be successful."

What that means for a possible bid by Salt Lake City for the 2026 Winter Games should be left up to organizers of the L.A. Games and the United States Olympic Committee to determine, he said.

"I think American politics are difficult, but Olympic politics are inscrutable. So I can't imagine trying to divine what's the best approach to take," the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee said.

Romney said making sure the focus stays on what will be the first Olympics held in the United States since 2002 shouldn't diminish the "enthusiasm and energy" around bringing the Winter Games back.

"At some point, Salt Lake should get the Winter Games again. It's just too great a location and too great an experience not to have the Games again," Romney said, adding that he would be an "enthusiastic supporter" of a future bid.

But a decision on 2026 has to be based on what's best for Los Angeles, he said.

"Salt Lake can fit into that priority as best as possible," Romney said. "I think it would be in the best interest of Salt Lake and the Olympic movement to have the Winter Games come back to Utah as soon as practical."

His comments came after the chairman of the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles expressed little enthusiasm about a possible bid by Salt Lake or another U.S. city for an upcoming Winter Games.

"Look, ’26 is complicated. Obviously, there's real challenges from a timing perspective," LA2028 Chairman Casey Wasserman told reporters at the Team USA Media Summit being held in Canyons Village at Park City Mountain Resort.

A U.S. city hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics creates "issues that collide" with the joint marketing agreement Los Angeles has with the USOC, a major source of revenue for both entities, Wasserman said.

That's because the 2026 and ’28 Olympics will be marketed together to sponsors, suppliers and licensees, and having both Games in the same country is likely to be viewed as less valuable.

Still, Wasserman said Los Angeles would keep an "open mind" about possible bids now being talked about by Salt Lake City, as well as Denver, the Reno-Tahoe area, and potentially other American cities.

"It's not up to us to decide whether those cities in the United States who are interested participate, but certainly before they formally bid, it will require a lot of conversation and a deep understanding of how that would affect us," he said.

Wasserman said Los Angeles wants to be a good partner to both the USOC and America's athletes, and it wants to see the IOC's new, yearlong informal bid process for 2026 that starts at the end of September go forward.

"When it's time to engage and really deeply understand, great," Wasserman said. "Certainly we'd love to have the Olympic Games come back to the United States, whether it's 2026 or 2030 and beyond."

Ultimately, the USOC decides whether to submit an American candidate for a Games to the International Olympic Committee, which makes the final decision. On Monday, USOC officials said they expect to begin discussing a possible bid next month.

Los Angeles was actually bidding for 2024 when the IOC made the unusual decision to award two Summer Games at the same time. Paris got the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles got the Games in 2028.

It remains to be seen whether the IOC will do the same in two years when it comes to awarding the next Winter Games, and choose host cities for both the 2026 and 2030 Winter Games at the same time.

Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer of the 2002 Games, said even if Salt Lake City decides a bid for 2030 is a better bet, "we would need to be part of the discussion for 2026 in the event the IOC decides to award two Games at once."

Bullock could head a future Salt Lake bid, Romney said, promising to "be open to offering my advice to the new leadership. But there would be a new team that would lead the Games in part because we need somebody a little younger."

Romney, 70, took over the then-struggling 2002 Games amid a bid-buying scandal. He said it turned out to be "a fantastic experience. It was the highlight of my professional career to be able to be part of those Olympic Games."

Since Los Angeles won the Summer Games, Romney said he's spoken with leaders of the California city's organizing committee and recommended they consider hiring "a number of key players" from the Salt Lake Olympics.

His advice for L.A. organizers? "There's the euphoria of when you win the bid, then there's the constant drip, drip, drip of criticism," he said. "Then, when the Games finally come, it's an enormous celebration and the negatives turn to positives."

Romney said he'll continue to "talk about lessons learned" with Los Angeles organizers, but he had no comment about whether he might be in a position to help a Salt Lake bid as a Utah senator.

"I've got nothing for you on that topic," Romney said, despite much speculation he would run in 2018 if Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, decides to retire after 42 years in office.