2026-2030 Olympics : The prospect of a return of the Winter Games to the United States

On the occasion of the 130th Session in July, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had adopted the practical modalities for the bidding procedure for the 2026 Winter Games.

Based on the obsolescence of a model weakened by the successive withdrawals of several cities initially interested in 2022 and 2024, the institution had chosen to review a procedure that had been based on two years.

In fact, process 2026 will include – as in process 2024 – a preparatory sequence called the “Invitation Phase”, but ultimately incorporate one year called “Candidate Phase”.

(Credits – IOC / Greg Martin)

In concrete terms, from September 2017 to October 2018, the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the cities likely to propose a candidacy for the Winter Games will be able to approach the IOC in order to obtain advice and assistance.

Directly inspired by Agenda 2020, this opportunity was introduced on January, 15, 2015 for cities wishing to present a project to the 2024 Olympic Games. The cities of Rome (Italy), Boston (USA), Hamburg (Germany), Paris (France) and Budapest (Hungary) had then responded to the call of the IOC before confirming – except Boston replaced by Los Angeles – their respective interest in mid-September 2015.

For the 2026 deadline, a similar model is in place; model for which an IOC Working Group should be set up to facilitate exchanges with the NOCs and cities concerned. The PyeongChang 2018 Games Observer Program will also be open to potential contenders and thematic workshops will be set up, again to facilitate discussion.

To bring strength and credibility to their ambition – and to limit the risk of subsequent withdrawals – NOCs and cities will need to clarify the referendum question and demonstrate popular support for an Olympic and Paralympic project.

The NOCs and the cities will also have to bring concrete elements relating to the masterplan (positioning of the main sites, the Village of the Athletes, etc …), as well as the budget. Information on safety, transportation and housing will also be requested, along with information on the Paralympic Games, vision and legacy, as well as sporting experience in the city and country.

Of course, information regarding the financial guarantees that could be provided by the various administrative levels – City, Region / Province, State – will constitute a prerequisite for any application, without any change in relation to the current Olympic rules.

At the end of this “Invitation phase”, and under the aegis of the Working Group and the IOC Executive Board, the cities that have made the required elements officially enter the “Candidate Phase”.

From October 2018 to October 2019, there will be four distinct stages in the procedure.

For the first stage, the IOC will set up an Evaluation Commission to examine the proposals submitted by the Candidate Cities on the basis of documents and venues.

These cities will have to provide four essential data : the commitment of the government authorities to respect the provisions of the Olympic Charter and the Host City Contract ; the commitment of the City and the NOC to sign the Host City Contract in the event of an election ; security guarantees; and guarantees on the financial aspect of the project.

In addition to these major data, the information – refined since the closing of the “Invitation Phase” – should be added concerning the concept of the Games, governance structure, institutional and public support, sustainability and legacy.

For the second stagebased on the existing model for the 2024 procedure – panels of experts will prepare the visit of the Evaluation Commission before it moves to each of the Candidate Cities.

For the third stage, the Evaluation Commission will collect all additional information provided by the Candidate Cities and publish its Evaluation Report, which will serve as the basis for the election of the Host City.

For the fourth stage, a briefing will be proposed to Candidate Cities in July 2019 ; briefing in which they will have the opportunity to present their respective concept to IOC members and representatives of the International Federations of Olympic winter sports.

Finally, in October 2019, the IOC Session – to be held in Milan (Italy) – will be responsible for electing the Host City for the 2026 Olympic Games.

(Credits – IOC)

At the moment, several cities have already mentioned an interest – more or less important – for hosting the Winter Games : Calgary (Canada), Sapporo (Japan), Innsbruck (Austria), Erzurum (Turkey), Sion (Switzerland), Stockholm (Sweden) – but the latter has since retired – as well as a handful of American cities.

In keeping with the logic that prevailed a few years ago, a National Olympic Committee, which was awarded an edition of the Games with a Host City, was not a candidate in the short and medium term.

However, the changes recorded by the contribution of the Agenda 2020 and the massive withdrawals of Candidate Cities have hackneyed cards.

The unwritten rule of rotation of the continents which had hitherto prevailed thus became obsolete, and what appeared obvious yesterday was transformed into perfect uncertainty.

The upheavals observed, therefore, account for – and in part – the designation of Beijing 2022 for hosting the Winter Games, only fourteen years after the Chinese capital of the 2008 Summer Games. This election, which took place on July 31, 2015, following a bidding process that prefigured the context we know today, effectively established that three editions of the successive Games would take place on the Asian continent : PyeongChang 2018 (winter), Tokyo 2020 (summer) and Beijing 2022 (winter).

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that an Asian city such as Sapporo is positioning itself on the 2026 deadline. It is the same with the American cities even though Los Angeles obtained the award of the Summer Olympics 2028.

(Credits – USOC)

Over the past five years, the US Olympic Movement has noted interest in Salt Lake City (Utah), Anchorage (Alaska), Lake Placid (NY), Reno / Lake Tahoe (Nevada) and Denver (Colorado).

In February 2014, the USOC had first raised the possibility of a winter bid against a background of preparation for a summer bid.

US Olympic institution had then preferred option 2024 – and 2028 – leaving 2026 aside. Casey Wasserman, President of LA 2028, had given the same feeling in an interview given during the summer to “Sport & Society”.

The return of the Summer Games to the United States nevertheless led the authorities to reopen the issue of the Winter Games. This week, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has indeed taken a step further by laying the foundations for a hypothetical country’s bid for the Games of 2026 or even 2030.

Paradoxically, caution is in order, given the recent designation of Los Angeles 2028 and the disturbances – particularly in terms of marketing – that could result in a new American bid for the preparation of the City of Angels.

“We are definitely interested in hosting the Winter Games in the United States at some point in time.

We have to talk about whether that’s 2026 or 2030 and what city that might be” said USOC Charmain Larry Probst.

There is no doubt that the US cities mentioned above – and perhaps others – will be likely to engage in varying degrees in discussions with the USOC.

The institution should in this regard specify the details of an internal procedure at the scheduled meeting of its Board of Directors October 13, 2017.

As things stand, a city seems to hold the rope and have a head start : Salt Lake City, which has organized the last Winter Olympics on US country (2002).

(Credits – Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation)

In fact, some may see a sign that USOC has organized its last media event in Park City, one of Salt Lake City’s emblematic venues.

This will undoubtedly remain a mere symbol, but it must be said that the City of Utah was able to take advantage of the 2002 Winter Games to build communication system and develop sporting venues that have since undergone a reconversion.

As a result, the ski jumping jumps were modernized between 2014 and 2015 to allow diversification of activities outside the winter season alone. The Oval has demonstrated the energy ambition of the city of Utah, including the installation of solar panels on its car parks.

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If the Olympic past of Salt Lake City is a strong argument, popular mobilization and a financial investment will also be necessary to ensure the city’s ability to host the Games again.

On the first point, a survey carried out in January 2014 had mentioned an 82% membership rate in favor of a candidacy for the Winter Games.

The survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates and David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, had also indicated that 92 per cent of the state’s population perceived the 2002 Games as beneficial to the development of territory.

The material legacy on the one hand, and the intangible legacy on the other.

In January of the same year, Natalie Gochnour had thus pleaded for a new candidature of Salt Lake City, exposing then multiple reasons.

On the second point, supporters of a Salt Lake City bid have established – as of 2013 – an organizational budget of $ 1.7 billion, based in part on existing venues.

Former Mayor of Salt Lake City, Deedee Corradini had clarified the philosophy of a possible candidacy.

In addition to this investment, institutional and political support must not be neglected.

Mitt Romney, at a press conference in February 2001 (Credits – Douglas C. Pizac / AP)

On this point, Salt Lake City can already count on the support of the former Chairman of the Salt Lake City 2002 Organizing Committee, former Governor of Massachusetts, and former Republican candidate in the 2012 US presidential election, Mitt Romney.

By 2013, Mitt Romney had announced that he would support a new bid from the city of Utah. Four years later, enthusiasm is still present, although alleviated by the current stakes around LA 2028.

“The first priority has to be supporting the Games in Los Angeles. They have to be successful.

[…] At some point, Salt Lake should get the Winter Games again. It’s just too great a location and too great an experience not to have the Games again.

[…] I think it would be in the best interest of Salt Lake and the Olympic movement to have the Winter Games come back to Utah as soon as practical” said Mitt Romney in an interview for the Deseret News.

Salt Lake City 2002 Opening Ceremony (Credits – IOC)

Beyond Salt Lake City, other cities – or local personalities – have spoken out in favor of a US bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

Regarding Lake Placid, the arguments are so far less eloquent than Salt Lake City, although the city of New York can make his last Olympic experience.

Nevertheless, despite support from Rob Astorino (2014) and Anthony G.Collins (2015), the challenges for Lake Placid appear to be important.

Of modest size – about 3,000 inhabitants – the city should necessarily associate itself with other cities or territories to hope to present a credible project. The city is also expected to secure substantial public and private funding to modernize its existing sites and undertake new developments. Finally, and this is a sine qua non, a hypothetical application should be endorsed by the municipal authorities.

But to date, the Mayor of Lake Placid is not more enthusiastic about the prospect of Olympic and Paralympic bid.

The road is still long for Lake Placid, as well as for Anchorage, Reno / Lake Tahoe, and Denver.

Ultimately, only Salt Lake City now seems to be able to embody a strong enough option to carry an Olympic and Paralympic bid for 2026 or 2030.

If the USOC decides to take the path of a winter candidature and the main city in Utah were to be designated by the institution, it could – if elected by the IOC in 2019 – to integrate a closed circle : that of the Olympic Cities having hosted twice the Winter Games.

For now, three Host Cities have managed this feat : St. Moritz (Switzerland) with the 1928 and 1948 Winter Games, Lake Placid Olympics with the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, and Innsbruck with the 1964 and 1976 Olympics.

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