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SALT LAKE CITY — The site of the 2030 Winter Games could all but be decided in the coming months now that International Olympic Committee leaders are ready to start negotiating the final details of their contract with the host city by the end of the year.
Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games, is vying to bring the Olympics back to Utah. Three other cities that also have previously held an Olympics are also bidding for 2030 — Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, Canada; and Barcelona, Spain, along with the Pyrenees mountain region.
Asked about the possibility of narrowing the field for 2030 to a single city by the end of the year, IOC President Thomas Bach made it clear Friday that could happen, providing the first details of the timeline for a decision during a virtual news conference from the organization's Swiss headquarters.
Under the IOC's new, less formal bid process, there's no deadline for deciding where an upcoming Games should be held. It's now the IOC Executive Board that chooses the location, although its decision must be formally ratified by the entire membership.
Once the executive board names a site, that bid enters into what's known as a targeted dialog with the IOC, hammering out the guarantees that the Games will be held and other specifics. It's possible in the new bid process, however, that more than one city could be advanced to those discussions.
"We are looking to a decision next year. In the best of (all) worlds, it would happen during the IOC session in Mumbai, (India) in May of next year," Bach told reporters, adding that "in order to get there, then the executive board would have to take the decision about the targeted dialog in December, during its meeting."
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said that affirms what bidders "hypothesized all along because we believe that seven years out from the Games is the latest that you'd want to have a Games awarded to be able to execute all the marketing agreements and operational plans."
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee suggested a similar timeline for a decision on 2030 earlier this year.
Bullock said once a city is selected to start the targeted dialog, "there are many things that need to be analyzed and discussed with the IOC, which is a several month process." For Salt Lake City's bid, that includes the state's plans to take financial responsibility for the $2.2 billion event by signing the host city agreement.
The Utah Legislature passed a resolution in 2020 pledging to sign the agreement that's required by the IOC to ensure the host will cover any losses, but Bullock said further action by lawmakers would be needed, likely during the 2023 session.
Bach did not address another possibility the new bid process permits, awarding multiple Games at the same time. There has been much speculation that because there are two strong front-runners for 2030, Salt Lake City and Sapporo, the IOC could select one to host 2030 and the other 2034.
Bullock said he has "no idea whether that would happen or not."
Christophe Dubi, the IOC's Olympic Games executive director, told reporters that an in-depth technical analysis of each bid is underway. A trio of IOC technical experts spent three days in Utah last month, touring venues from 2002 that have since been continued to be used by both amateur and elite athletes.
"Obviously, this is not at this stage formal, but there is a lot of work that is done in partnership with those parties that are interested" in hosting, Dubi said at the news conference held at the end of an executive session started in February during the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, then postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the summer, Dubi said more work will be done by the IOC's Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games to provide "a complete picture to the executive board later in the year" with the goal of starting a targeted dialog in December.
Then, Dubi said, "we can finalize all of the value propositions, including what is immensely important, the guarantees, in time for the session. That's the work plan we have ahead of us but if I may say so, we have very strong proposals and this is very pleasing at this stage."
Bach spoke during the hourslong executive board meeting about the heightened level of interest in hosting the Olympics. The new process stems not only from reforms put in place after the scandal surrounding Salt Lake City's attempts to buy IOC votes in the late 1990s, but also because interest in hosting the Winter Games had declined.
"We revolutionized our procedure to select hosts for the Olympic Games," Bach said, ending the expensive bid campaigns of the past and encouraging sustainability to control the costs associated with constructing venues and other preparations.
The new process is working, the IOC president said.
"Today, we have interested parties from all three continents, which have the geographic and climatic conditions to organize the Olympic Winter Games in 2030," he said, adding that there are also a "significant number" of cities now eying the 2036 and even 2040 Summer Games.
Bullock, who recently provided budget details, said Utahns will be hearing more about the bid soon. On Tuesday, the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Institute released a new economic impact analysis that showed the state could expect $3.9 billion as a result of hosting, less than in 2002 because the venues are already in place.
There are plans to travel next month to Switzerland to meet with IOC officials, and later this year Bullock said bidders will head to the communities where venues are located for discussions about how another Olympics could be a catalyst for other projects.
"The bid isn't just with the IOC," he said. "It's the whole community coming together."