Michael Pavitt

The unofficial starting gun in the contest to be named hosts of the 2030 Winter Olympics appeared to have been fired last month.

United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) chair Susanne Lyons gave a rough outline of the somewhat opaque new way of awarding the Games.

Lyons revealed that an International Olympic Committee (IOC) delegation will visit Utah later this month for a technical visit, where prospective plans for the Games will be scrutinised. Officials from the United States are then expected to be part of a delegation which is due to visit the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne during June.

The suggestion was made that the IOC could well narrow the field by the conclusion of the year, with the prospect looking increasingly likely the Games could be awarded at the IOC Session next year in Mumbai.

With Los Angeles 2028 and Brisbane 2032 awarded in advance of the typical seven-year lead in time, an awarding at the Session next year would mark a return to a more traditional timeframe.

The potential timeframe makes sense. Candidates sought to play down the idea of holding formal talks with the IOC during the frantic six months between Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022. With the back-to-back Games in the rear-view mirror, the process can ramp up.

The IOC may not have to slim down the candidates themselves, with several hurdles remaining for the candidates over the coming months.

Just eight months ago after all, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had met IOC President Thomas Bach to announce the country would enter the dialogue phase for the Games to make a potentially crowded field of five candidates.

A bid for Ukraine could not be more unlikely now given the ongoing Russian invasion. Even if the conflict ends soon, the country’s focus will undoubtedly be elsewhere.

The Aragon Government opted out of a meeting in protest at the distribution of events in Spain ©COE
The Aragon Government opted out of a meeting in protest at the distribution of events in Spain ©COE

Salt Lake City looks certain to face competition from the Japanese city Sapporo, as well as from 2010 hosts Vancouver in Canada and the Pyrenees-Barcelona effort in Spain.

If you were to conduct a health check on the potential bids at this stage, the concerns would probably exist the most around the latter.

The Aragon Government left their chair empty at a meeting at the start of this month to validate proposals of a Technical Committee, which was viewed as a perceived protest against the current distribution of events.

Aragon President Javier Lambán had labelled the distribution between the region and Catalonia as “unfair”, with a new proposition put to the Spanish Olympic Committee (COE) in a meeting this week including a map of the suggested locations.

The COE has said it will hold another meeting to effectively thrash out a "definitive solution."

A telling quote came today from Spain’s Minister of Culture and Sports, Miquel Iceta. Iceta warned in a radio interview with Rac1 that "this candidacy only has one adversary, which is ourselves."

Finalising their proposed concept, including the potential inclusion of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a host of sliding events, looks increasingly important.

The IOC are expected to visit proposed venues next month, while the public will have their say in votes on July 24. Should the Alt Pirineu and Aran areas be unconvinced, the bid potentially could be shelved.

A referendum over Vancouver’s bid has been mooted in recent weeks, with City Councillor Colleen Hardwick suggesting a "ballot question" be included when residents vote in a civic election in October.

Her motion was quashed after failing to receive a seconder, with Mayor Kennedy Stewart having suggested the proposal would have violated a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with First Nation groups.

A vote now seems off the table for the time being, but the Mayor’s office has not ruled out holding one at a later date. After all, recent bid races have been impacted by public mood, whether there is a vote or not.

Should a referendum happen, there could be the quirk of Vancouver seeking to repeat its own success as the most recent city to have received public support in a plebiscite to then be awarded the Olympic Games.

A public ballot was a topic discussed by the Vancouver City Council this week ©Getty Images
A public ballot was a topic discussed by the Vancouver City Council this week ©Getty Images

The momentum does certainly feel with the Salt Lake City and Sapporo bids at this stage of the process.

Perhaps it should not be much of a surprise, with the USOPC selecting Salt Lake City as its preferred candidate as far back as 2018. The USOPC last month declared the bid to be in "very good shape."

A proposed Games budget of $2.2 billion (£1.6 billion/€2 billion) has been touted, existing facilities from 2002 in place and a reported 13,000 hotel rooms secured in principle for Games in either 2030 or 2034.

Arguably that is the biggest question remaining over the Games, with the USOPC and the Salt Lake City-Utah Bid Committee having faced questions for months over whether 2030 or 2034 will be their choice. The discussion has centred over the proximity to Los Angeles 2028, with an assessment of the pros and cons expected to be completed by the autumn.

Sapporo’s intent to host the Games has been clear for some time now. A welcoming event at the 2017 Asian Winter Games was instructive, with Japanese officials keen to make a strong impression on visitors as they pitched the Games as a prelude to seeking to host the Winter Olympics for the second time.

The 1972 hosts opted against throwing its hat into the ring for the 2026 Winter Olympics after an earthquake in Hokkaido in 2018. The city has undoubtedly been able to use the additional time effectively, with meetings with the IOC in 2020, as well as revamping its proposals.

A draft Games plan was published by the city last month, which claims that all 13 competition venues would be existing, including the sliding centre used in Nagano for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Albeit a reconstruction of the Tsukisamu Gymnasium has been suggested in the plan.

The plan has also outlined the city’s reasons for bidding. This includes developing a transportation system fit for an ageing society, renewing facilities in the city, enhancing sustainability and helping tackle climate change.

It is instructive that the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games appears frequently on Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto’s recent activities on the city’s website, while he appears to be inundated by questions over potentially hosting the Games.

Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto has been a keen supporter of his city's efforts to host the Games for the second time ©ITG
Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto has been a keen supporter of his city's efforts to host the Games for the second time ©ITG

Akimoto claimed this week 110,000 people have formed part of a Games supporters club, along with 142 organisations also supporting an effort. The politician has also suggested there is strong support from young people towards hosting the Games, with the city’s acceleration in the bid process shown by the establishment of a promotion committee.

"Although the IOC has not yet announced a specific schedule for the bid, the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games have ended, and the venue for the 2030 Games will be decided,” Akimoto said this week. In the future, we are thinking that the narrowing down of candidate cities will begin in earnest.

"Therefore, in the future, not only in Sapporo, but also in Hokkaido, the whole country, and even the world, we will firmly convey the significance and value of holding the Games, gaining more understanding. I think it is important to proceed with the bid."

The bid race for the 2026 Games - arguably the last of its kind - appeared far more fraught for the IOC than the current process. Bids fell by the wayside amid uncertain public support, while doubts seemed to exist over Milan Cortina and Stockholm Are right up until the IOC Session when the Games were awarded.

Given the long-term support for a couple of the 2030 contenders, it looks as though the IOC could have a couple of strong candidates to choose from.

With the flexibility the organisation has given itself with the new bid process, the prospect of a double awarding of the Games surely cannot be ruled out. Particularly with the USOPC and Salt Lake City remaining publicly open to hosting in either 2030 or 2034.