OpEd: The Olympic Host City Conundrum

(ATR) Olympic expert Mike Moran chronicles the troubled history of Winter Olympic bids.

(ATR) Olympic expert Mike Moran chronicles the troubled history of Winter Olympic bids. In the wake of the defeat of the Olympic bid referendum in Calgary this week, Moran says he has a sense of foreboding.

Moran is a former director of communications for the U.S.Olympic Committee. In that role he’s been associated with two successful bids from the U.S. for the Olympics, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.He lives in Colorado Springs where he is senior media consultant for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation. He was inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Mike Moran's Musings:The Olympic Host City Conundrum

Whoa! The International Olympic Committee has lost yet another city showing interest in hosting the 2026 Olympic Winter Games this week. The citizens of Calgary voted 56.4% against the bid in a non-binding citywide plebiscite, effectively killing any chance of the Olympics making a second visit to Alberta.

Calgary becomes the fifth city this year to withdraw their interest in hosting the 2026 Winter Games, joining Sapporo, Japan; Graz, Austria; Sion, Switzerland; and Erzurum, Turkey.

Just two cities are left, and both face significant opposition from governments and their citizens, Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy and Stockholm, Sweden.

Stockholm's bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics and Paralympics has been thrown into serious doubt after the City Council's two newly-merged parties agreed they will not host the Games. The city, which staged the Olympic Games in 1912, had been lacking support from the Swedish Government and the City Council.

Italy's former three-pronged bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics has been reduced to a two-city candidacy featuring Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo. Turin’s candidacy is dead in the water now, with the city’s exclusion following infighting between Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala and Turin counterpart Chiara Appendino, who had been arguing over the bid's leadership and naming rights.

The question suddenly on the minds of millions is "does anyone want the Winter Games at all?" The costs are staggering.

When Squaw Valley was awarded the 1960 Winter Games over Innsbruck, some $80 million was spent to develop the infrastructure and venues at what had been an undeveloped resort. But it all came with controversy.

In 1957, the United States government threatened to deny visas to athletes from Communist countries. The IOC responded with a threat to revoke Squaw Valley's right to host the 1960 Games. The United States conceded and allowed entry to athletes from Communist countries. CBS purchased the television rights for just $50,000.

The USOC submitted a 1980 bid from tiny Lake Placid, which had hosted the 1932 Winter Games, and it turned out to be the only bid for IOC consideration. With no other city wishing to bid in light of the problems experienced from 1968-76 by the Winter Olympic host cities, only Lake Placid remained as a candidate when it came time for the IOC to award the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, and so the village was selected.

ABC paid $25 million for the television rights to the Games, which cost $49 million to stage in the town’s final Games operating budget.

Recent costs are mind-numbing.

Sarajevo 1984 ($55 million), Calgary 1988 ($438 million), Albertville 1992 ($2.1 billion and a cost overrun of 137%), Lillehammer 1994 ($1.1 billion), Nagano 1998($2.2 billion), Salt Lake City 2002 ($1.4 billion and a $56 million surplus), Turin 2006 ($1.6 billion), Vancouver 2010 ($1.3 billion), Sochi 2014 ($51 billion), Pyeongchang 2018 ($13 billion).

But the current host city squabble is hardly the first controversy that the IOC has faced in modern times….let’s roll back to 1980 and the awarding of the 1984 Olympic Games to Los Angeles and the hassles in that city that had developed over the costs.

The IOC had given the LAOOC and the USOC until August 31, 1980, to come up with a guarantee, or else the Games were going elsewhere. The USOC promised $25 million, which it did not really have, the LA moguls pitched in another $25 million to indemnify the city against a shortfall, and the USOC gave the IOC a $300,000 deposit in good faith, allowing the Lausanne officials to wink and keep the Games in Los Angeles.

Since only Tehran had bid for the Games against Los Angeles, it’s anyone’s guess now where they would have moved the Games if Los Angeles, like Denver in 1973, had given them back. The Games were a huge success, earning a splendid $233 million surplus and giving the USOC back almost $111 million for its gamble, and the teamwork probably saved the Olympic Games for the future.

Los Angeles has been awarded the right to host the 2028 Olympic Games after Paris in 2024, and the USOC is analyzing cohesive bids from Denver and Salt Lake City for the proposed 2030 Olympic Winter Games.

Salt Lake says it can stage the Games for an ambitious $1.35 billion and Denver says it will look at a tab of about $2 billion to bring the Games to the Rockies. The USOC says it will make up its mind by the end of the year.

Salt Lake says it can host again at a lower cost than other places, but it will have to overcome the stigma from a bidding scandal that marred the buildup to the 2002 Games.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert says that the city is a clear front-runner because, based on the merits, "there's no place better. In fact, we are probably not only the best place in America to host the Olympics, we're probably the best place in the world."

Seated Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper says "I think one of the things that hosting an event like the Olympics allows a state to do is to show the world all the progress they've made, and if they've changed a lot in the last 10 or 15 years; they've built a transit system, they've got a great airport, a lot of the stuff that we've done that allows you to grow, as the infrastructure allows you to grow, that's where I come down and say, "Well, maybe that's a good idea."

Colorado’s Governor-Elect Jared Polis, doing his best Dick Lamm ’73 impersonation, has said he would not support bringing the Olympics to Colorado. In a June debate, Polis said he didn’t think Denver should even continue pursuing a bid. "These are like fun things for millionaires and business people but it leaves the rest of us with the debt and the price tag," Polis said. He did not attend this week’s USOC site selection team visit to the Mile High city.

As if new USOC Chief Executive Officer Sarah Hirshland didn’t have enough else to concern herself with, right here in the organization’s home state in Colorado Springs, Olympic City USA.

Perhaps it will fall on the shoulders of Los Angeles to save the Games from extinction once again, but in the meantime, the defection of the handful of cities from the 2026 bidding process because of costs, overrun history and even climate change is foreboding.

Stay tuned, and don’t change the channel.