Dec 9, 2022 - News

Climate change sets back Winter Olympics decision for Salt Lake City

Cross country skiers compete at the Olympics.

Cross-country skiers compete at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Photo: David Madison/Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is putting off choosing a host for the 2030 Winter Games, saying it needs to further investigate how climate change will affect venues for snow sports.

The big picture: The delay gives the committee time to revamp how it will choose host cities in coming decades, with "climate-reliable" venues expected to decline.

Why it matters: Salt Lake City is one of three finalists for the 2030 games, and a final answer had been expected next September or October, during the 2023 IOC Session.

Yes, but: With the delay, the international committee is also looking more seriously at creating a host rotation.

  • That could guarantee that Salt Lake City will host the games repeatedly — as long as it's cold enough and snowy enough.

Catch up quick: Salt Lake City and Sapporo, Japan, are the two likeliest candidates for 2030.

By the numbers: The IOC is considering requiring hosts to show average minimum temperatures below 32° F at snow sports venues over a 10-year period.

  • Salt Lake's organizers say the city will meet those requirements until at least 2050.

Details: Climate researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario teamed up with athletes this year to determine what conditions are necessary for safe competition — not just temperature, but also snow texture, rain and ice.

  • Sapporo was the only previous host city that would remain reliable through the 2080s even if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, the study projected.
  • Salt Lake City would only be suitable for athletes if emissions decline in accordance with the Paris climate agreement; otherwise, conditions here will be "marginal" by 2050.

What's next: The IOC may announce host cities for 2030 and 2034 simultaneously, though it's unclear when that decision might be made.

  • Choosing the two cities together "would win some time to … establish a sound rotation system," Thomas Bach, the committee's president, said in a news conference Thursday.

Between the lines: Salt Lake organizers and U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee have said they would rather host in 2034 than 2030.

  • With Los Angeles hosting the summer games in 2028, organizers are worried that two U.S. games in less than two years would drain sponsors and other sources of funding, The Deseret News reported.

Of note: The finalists for 2030 have all hosted before, so there is little concern that the cities won't have time to prepare for the games if the decision is delayed.

  • "​​They have the venues. They have the expertise as well, hosting competitions," Christophe Dubi, executive director for the games, said in a news conference this week.

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