Next stop for the IOC delegation that praised Utah’s 2034 Winter Games bid? The French Alps

Danka Bartekova, International Olympic Committee member, Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games executive director, and Colin Hilton, Olympic Legacy Foundation president and CEO, arrive with members of the International Olympic Committee’s Future Host Commission, IOC, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic leaders to tour the Utah Olympic Oval in consideration for the 2034 Games in Kearns on Friday, April 12, 2024.

The final venue stop for the International Olympic Committee delegation in Utah last week to tour sites for a 2034 Winter Games was the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, where young skaters were practicing on the center ice as the features of the decades-old facility that continues to host major competitions were pointed out.

But when the IOC’s Future Host Commission heads to France next week to do the same for the proposed 2030 Winter Games venues, there won’t be a speedskating oval to see. Not only are there no plans for a permanent speedskating oval for a French Alps Games, the competitions could end up being held in another country.

The differences between the pair of “preferred hosts” for the next two Winter Games to be awarded by the IOC are dramatic. Utah has been pursuing another Winter Games for more than a dozen years, France didn’t get into the race until less than a year ago.

IOC leaders are set to receive the Future Host Commission’s findings on both the 2030 and 2034 bids in June, and decide whether they’re ready for a final vote of the full membership that’s anticipated to be held in Paris on July 24, celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah.

Salt Lake City’s bid utilizes all of the venues from the 2002 Winter Games except for the Weber County Ice Sheet in Ogden, while France is counting on ski areas that have held international competitions and the expertise behind this summer’s Olympics in Paris.

And although the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games has secured the required government guarantees, including assurances from the Utah Legislature last year that the state would cover any losses from a privately funded Olympics, that’s not the case yet in France.

Still, there’s been no talk recently of the possibility Salt Lake City might be asked to step up and host four years earlier if the French bid falters. Utah had sought to host either in 2030 or 2034, with a preference for the later date to avoid competing for sponsors with the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

On Monday, the same executive who joined with IOC members and sports officials in praising Utah’s Olympic preparations during their visit to the Beehive State last week, expressed confidence in the French Alps bid at a news media briefing about the Future Host Commission’s April 22-26 trip to see 2030 venues.

“It’s a titanic job which was carried out by our partners in the French Alps and it’s up to us now to try and build on that, to streamline the whole project, which is based upon a very good starting point,” the IOC’s Olympic Games executive director, Christophe Dubi, told reporters in French, according to a translation.

Dubi described France’s Winter Games bid as “exciting for a number of different reasons. One is that in the French Alps, there is an incredible capacity to organize major events.” He said the bid meets the IOC’s sustainability goals “to the extent we’re relying on what exists already. But there is also a capacity to develop.”

Plus, the French bid “can rely on a political and administrative sector which has been developed for the Paris Games,” Dubi said, calling the budget and other operational details put together for the 2024 Summer Olympics “easily transferable.”

There is also “a lot of very strong support” for a Winter Games in France, he said, citing backing from 70% of the public as well as from companies sponsoring the Paris Games. French President Emmanuel Macron and the two regional leaders who would be the financial guarantors for 2030 also have expressed their support, Dubi said.

What’s not yet in place is the actual commitment to absorb any losses, something that is “absolutely essential,” the IOC executive said, adding that such guarantees are also “quite complex,” requiring legislative action that may take more time than planned.

The IOC had asked that all guarantees be submitted by the end of March. A detailed bid submission that included venue specifics was due at the end of February. The Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games said they met both deadlines.

“We know those guarantees will be provided” by the French bid, Dubi said, calling it a matter of signing the necessary documents. “There is no doubt about that. We’ve been given commitments at the very highest level. So there is no problem whatever.”

The Switzerland-based IOC is also not in a hurry when it comes to identifying a speedskating venue for 2030.

“We have a number of different opportunities,” Dubi said, since a temporary speedskating oval is already in the works for the 2026 Winter Games in Milan-Cortina, Italy. After the IOC rejected the Italian organizers’ initial plan to build a $54 million roof over an outdoor track, the decision was made to install a temporary track in a Milan exhibition center.

“We now know it is doable with all the guarantees needed for ice quality, which is extremely complex in the case of the oval,” he said of a temporary facility.

That could be the solution for French Alps bidders, who intend to hold all skating events in Nice, a subtropical beachside city along what’s known as the French Riviera. Nice is at the southern end of a bid that stretches from Chamonix, the 1924 Winter Games host, in northern France.

Another option, Dubi said, is holding speedskating competitions at an existing site outside France.

“There are a number of different potential candidates,” he said, declining to speculate beyond suggesting French bidders may be looking at “a possibility in Italy, but there are other neighboring countries that could be considered,” along with the Netherlands, a longtime speedskating powerhouse.

In contrast, after spending three days viewing venues in Utah last week, the Future Host Commission chairman, Austrian IOC member Karl Stoss, congratulated Salt Lake City on being a “role model” during a news conference held in what’s known as the speakeasy room of the Edison House, a downtown members-only social club.

Citing the “outstanding venues” that have been “maintained to a very, very high standard” for competitive and community use since 2002, Stoss joked that it was “great to see that we are not looking at white elephants,” then said Utah shows that hosting “keeps the Olympic spirit for a long, long time.”

Others joined in the accolades, with Dubi declaring Salt Lake City and Utah “a hidden treasure” that has “profoundly changed” as a result of holding the Winter Games. “This story,” the IOC executive said, “needs to be told.”