SALT LAKE CITY — It’s difficult not to be initially enthusiastic about the possibility of having another Olympic Winter Games in Utah — now that an exploratory committee has been convened to decide whether Salt Lake City should throw its hat into the interlocking rings to bid again for the Games, either in 2026 or 2030.
Unless you’re that guy who was directing traffic at Snowbasin or a certain French figure skating judge, you have to search really hard to find anything bad to say about the Salt Lake Olympics of 2002.
For three weeks, downtown felt like Times Square. If there was a world record for volunteering, Utahns set it. The venues were easy to get to — and 15 years later, most of them are still standing and operating. Every time you turned around an American was winning a medal. We got I-15 widened. We made money.
If the people who run the Olympics were at all logical they’d put Salt Lake City into a short rotation of permanent hosts for the Winter Olympics.
But that’s the thing: The Olympics aren’t about logic, they’re about the members of the International Olympic Committee — usually about 100 of them (the current roster), no more than 115 at any given time — and they call all the shots.
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No one needs a reminder that it was Salt Lake’s bid for 2002 that exposed a significant level of corruption in the IOC balloting system.
Salt Lake largely didn’t get the ’02 Games because of its outstanding infrastructure, terrific winter sports culture and a great organizing committee — assets it held in spades. It largely got the Games because IOC members from Africa and South America who wouldn’t know a ski jump from a high jump were willing to sell their votes to the highest bidder.
After the vote-selling racket came to light, the fallout from that mess got 10 IOC members (almost a tenth of the club) suspended and another handful warned, while ushering in a number of reforms, including the canceling of member visits to candidate cities.
Almost two decades later, two questions:
• Did the reforms end IOC corruption when it comes to selecting bid cities?
• Is Salt Lake doomed to be seen as a whistleblower (however reluctantly) and therefore to forevermore remain out of IOC favor?
The answer to the first question would seem to be an unqualified probably not, given news reports that allege both the just-held Rio Olympics of 2016 and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics of 2020 involved vote-fixing. Too, there’s the cloud that hangs over Russia’s securing of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — a summer resort and favorite of Vladimir Putin that somehow won the bid without hardly any winter sports facilities and required $51 billion (a mere $39 billion over budget) to host the Games.
As to the second question, the answer depends on just how long are the memories of IOC members, and do they hold a grudge for being embarrassed (however deservedly) last time?
According to the IOC website, the current roster of the IOC has no less than 25 members — a quarter of its membership — who participated in the 1995 vote in Budapest that selected Salt Lake City (in a landslide) over Östersund, Sweden; Sion, Switzerland; and Quebec, Canada.
If Salt Lake were to make it to Milan, Italy, in 2019 for the IOC Congress that will decide the 2026 and possibly the 2030 Games, would these 25 delegates, many of whom undoubtedly voted for Salt Lake in 1995 (the balloting is secret), feel good about voting for Salt Lake City again?
And what about the two IOC members still standing who were objects of the 2002 vote-selling investigation?
Willi Kaltschmitt Lujan, of Guatemala, was given a warning but no expulsion, and Austin Sealy, of Barbados, was initially given a warning but later exonerated.
Both men would presumably vote in 2019.
How objective could these two be about Salt Lake, and how much influence would their feelings have on their colleagues?5 comments on this story
Given that Salt Lake City’s ability to host a successful Olympics is already well established, it would seem the only significant thing the exploratory committee convened earlier this month needs to explore is if the 100 members of the IOC, after everything that happened last time, would be inclined to still vote for Salt Lake — and how much, if anything, it would cost.
Until, and unless, that gets sorted out, everything else will be more or less a waste of time.
Let the schmoozing begin. Again.