I recommend we lose it.
That may not be a popular opinion on a week when the Utah Legislature called a rare joint meeting to welcome officials from the U.S. Olympic Committee who were in town to scope out the leftover venues from the 2002 Winter Games.
But somebody has to say it.
The Reno-Tahoe area was under consideration until it dropped out of contention voluntarily. The talk in Denver is that people may want a vote on whether their bid is a good idea. That’s ominous, considering Denver voters rejected the 1976 games in a vote held 46 years ago.
But in case you hadn’t noticed, a lot of cities have been doing that lately.
Calgary held a vote on Tuesday concerning the 2026 Winter Games. Turnout was high, and 56 percent voted no. That’s significant, considering Calgary, like Salt Lake City, has done this before.
But the same could be said for Oslo, Norway, which decided to back out a few years ago because of worries over environmental damage and, most important, costs.
Sion, Switzerland also backed out. So did Sapporo, Japan and Graz, Austria. They, too, were in the running for the 2026 Winter Games, which now, by default, is down to either Stockholm, Sweden or a multi-city bid from Italy.
New York Times sports columnist Michael Powell put it well Monday when he wrote, “Hobbled by a reputation for gross expense and corruption, the International Olympic Committee has become a mendicant, shuffling from nation to nation, shaking its cup and asking if anyone might be interested in bidding on the 2026 Winter Games.”
Why on earth is Utah so willing to raise its hand and volunteer, even if it’s not until 2030?
Like many people who lived here 16 years ago, I have fond memories of the games. Watching the torch enter the city and make its way to the stadium and seeing all the happy foreigners and the general party atmosphere that enveloped the Wasatch Front felt almost as if the world had declared peace and named this as its capital.
But that was the polished surface of the games. If it was the sum total of the Olympics, and if Utah’s decision to maintain its venues from those days would assure a low-cost, worry free experience, I’d be all for it.
But the International Olympic Committee seems intent on making the games anything but worry free.
The 2016 Summer Games in Rio were rife with corruption, the full extent of which became evident only much later when prosecutors uncovered evidence of bribes. Virtually every bid city talks about holding down costs, but those costs find a way to rise. Sochi spent an estimated $51 billion in 2014, with little, if any, oversight.
That wouldn’t happen here, but it’s naïve to think there won’t be unexpected, and perhaps unnecessary, costs. And no one should be convinced the IOC has learned its lesson.
Then there are the ever-present arguments about economic development.
Two years ago, an academic study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives poked holes in many of those popular arguments. “Going for the Gold: The Economics of the Olympics” authored by Robert A. Baade of Lake Forest College in Illinois, and Victor A. Matheson of College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, drew the “overwhelming conclusion” that “in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities...”
Even though the study says the Salt Lake games didn’t deliver on most of its long-term promises, it did find that Utah saw a large increase in skiing tourism in the years that followed.
Whether another Olympics would generate that same kind of bump is debatable, even though the games represent two weeks of free advertising for the host city.
If Salt Lake City were named as one of a few places that would continually house the games on a rotating basis, I would be all for it. If the last several Olympics had been free of scandal and conducted within strict, austere budgets, I would feel better about another bid.
As it is, however, a lot of reasons exist for feeling queasy about so readily seeking something many other cities are choosing to decline.