The 2002 Winter Olympics were monumental in what they did to cement Salt Lake City as a player on the world stage, bringing prestige and an elevated image that comes with successfully hosting an international event. It’s easy to see why there is eagerness to pursue a chance to host a second games in 2026 or 2030, but before the state squares up to head down that slope, it’s worth weighing the full costs and benefits.
Certainly, a second go-around would further solidify Utah’s standing as a mecca for winter sports, and it would bring short-term business boosts. The games would, as they did 15 years ago, provide a rousing festival of celebration and pride that would bring the community together and thrill visitors.
But there would be costs involved. Even though much of the infrastructure remains in place, a committee formed in 2012 to assess the costs of hosting the 2022 games and pegged the tab at $1.7 billion. It estimated the cost of a bid alone at up to $30 million.
What it comes down to isn’t much different than a conversation a family might have about whether it’s in the household budget to host a big holiday party, inviting everyone they know and pulling out all the stops to make sure the guests and hosts have a good time. Utah is known for its hospitality and its thriving tourism industry, and who doesn’t like a party? But there are reasons to proceed prudently in assessing the costs versus the benefits.
Also of concern are recent International Olympic Committee (IOC) scandals. Of note, police in France and Brazil have said they uncovered a vote-buying and corruption scheme concerning the 2016 games in Rio. The disgracefully expensive price tag of the 2014 Sochi games — over $50 billion — should also give cause for concern. These instances are at least partially to blame for why voters have been rejecting Olympic bid efforts in countries around the world.
No one doubts the people of Utah would do a great job again, but all the controversies swirling around Olympic administration should give the state at least some pause.
It’s comforting, however, to see that an exploratory committee being formed by state and city leaders will be charged with making an assessment and presenting the details to the state Legislature. That kind of transparency will be critical to mustering necessary public support. There may be an alpenglow of nostalgia when summoning memories of the 2002 games, but it’s important to remember there was a shadow over those games in the form of a bribery scandal involving inducements to members of the IOC during the selection process.
Any campaign to go forward should proceed with as much openness and accountability as possible. In terms of the costs versus the benefits, Salt Lake City and surrounding areas have Olympic-ready venues, and Utah is poised to benefit from previous experience in managing the complex logistics. Aside from the practical, there is an altruistic motive to seek a second run. The 2002 games brought needed relief to a world shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks just months before the opening ceremony. For two weeks, nations put aside conflicts to compete peacefully on the snow and ice. Well-executed games could once again bring the community, nation and world together in important ways.
Utah offered a memorable and inspirational stage for those games, something that the state may very well repeat, assuming leaders and community members can agree that an encore performance is worth the time, effort and money.