SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, said Wednesday he wants to see the Olympics return to Utah — but in 2030 rather than waiting an additional four years.
"Obviously, the sooner the better, at least in my view," the 74-year-old GOP senator told KSL NewsRadio's Debbie Dujanovic, host of the "Dave and Dujanovic" show. "Just in terms of those of us that are getting a little older, we'd like it earlier so we can hike up those mountains with a little more ease."
Romney, who is not part of the Utah bid effort, pointed out he is "not aware of the implications" of Salt Lake City being chosen to bid for the 2030 versus the 2034 Winter Games, a decision now anticipated from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee by the end of year.
The USOPC had been expected to wait until after the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing that begin in February. But Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, told the Deseret News this week the nation's Olympic leaders are ready to start talking.
Salt Lake City was selected by the USOPC over Denver in December 2018 to bid on behalf of the United States for an unspecified future Winter Games. USOPC Chairwoman Susanne Lyons said at a recent news conference, "We want to welcome them back to the U.S. as soon as we can."
Lyons, speaking in Tokyo, where the 2020 Summer Games are finally underway after a year-long delay due to COVID-19, said there hasn't been "any significant active discussion about the winter bids beyond the next Games. However, we are poised and ready."
Under a new, less formal bid process, the International Olympic Committee could name the 2030 host at any time. Besides Salt Lake City, other cities that have expressed interest in hosting are Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, Canada; and Barcelona, Spain. All have also previously hosted an Olympics.
Romney said there's no question the Winter Games should return to Utah.
"Should we host another Games? Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, we have spectacular venues, we've already demonstrated our people are warm and welcoming, and we'd do a terrific job hosting the world. I think it would be fantastic to have another Games in Utah," the senator said.
Utahns would agree, he suggested.
"The people who were part of the Olympic experience last time around thought it was an experience of a lifetime and I think for the whole community, it brought us together and put aside some of the divisions that spring up in a political environment," Romney said. "We did something that was bigger than ourselves."
As for the Tokyo Games, struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks and other issues, he said the Olympics are about showcasing something larger.
"Those people, for whom the Olympics is about counting medals and having America No. 1, I think they're missing the picture. The Olympics is more about seeing the great qualities of the human spirit, in athletes American and also other countries. We celebrate that. We celebrate humanity and the goodness of humanity," Romney said.
He again expressed his support for Team USA gymnast Simone Biles, who left the competition, citing concerns about her mental well-being. "She's fantastic. What an extraordinary person. She withdrew, in part for her own health, I'm sure, but also in part because she felt she was dragging down the team."
In an earlier tweet, Romney said, "I love and admire Simone Biles and our Olympians. Beyond their determination and sacrifice, they evidence the greatness of the human spirit, in victory and in defeat. I take pride in them, not so much for the medals they win as for the grace, humanity & character of their hearts.
Romney again said he does not want to see an athlete boycott of the Beijing Games over China's human rights record, but he has called for an economic and diplomatic boycott to protest the treatment of religious minorities, especially the Muslim Uighurs.
"Almost everyone I hear from feels we need to make a very clear statement that what Beijing is doing to its minorities, to religion, and particularly to the Uighur people is unacceptable and outrageous. In regard to the Uighur people in particular, is genocide," the senator said.
"Having them host the Olympics is an outrage," he said, adding "the world is not going to accept China and their effort to try and paper over this."