Salt Lake 2022: not a chance

As Salt Lake City celebrates the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Winter Olympics, local authorities have announced they intend to explore the idea of bidding again for the 2022 or 2026 Winter Games. Addressing supporters at the Olympic cauldron at Rice-Eccles Stadium was re-lit last week for a few minutes, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, "We need to pursue this [exploration] to see if there is real opportunity there."

I can help, Mr. Governor.

There is no chance Salt Lake City can win. Zero. Zip. Nada. You can stop right now.

Save everyone the money, the time and the worry.

This is not -- repeat, not -- a slam on Salt Lake, or Utah. Salt Lake is cool. Park City and Deer Valley are beautiful. So is Soldier Hollow.

This is, instead, a blunt assessment of the reality of the International Olympic Committee bid game. I have covered every IOC bid contest since 1999. I spent a great deal of 2011 reporting on the 2018 Winter Games contest, won by Pyeongchang, South Korea, going to each of the three stops on the Evaluation Commission tour and then the vote itself last July in Durban, South Africa.

Mr. Governor, not once since the 2002 Games closed has even one IOC member said to me -- you know what, I really want to go back to Salt Lake City.

That is why you have no chance.

Do you know where the members of the IOC consistently say they would want to go?

San Francisco. And Los Angeles. For the Summer Games.

In polling done for the 2012 New York and 2016 Chicago bids, IOC members consistently told their American friends that where they really wanted to go was California. The IOC is Eurocentric; San Francisco is a magic name in Europe and yet it has never staged the Games. LA has played host twice, in 1932 and 1984, but Southern California, with Hollywood, Disneyland and the surf and volleyball culture of the beach, nonetheless remains a potent draw.

Mr. Governor, another point to consider:

Salt Lake was an Olympic city in 2002 but since then, what? The IOC is back in the United States this week for a conference it stages every four years called "Women and Sport." President Jacques Rogge is in attendance. Some 800 people are with him. Where's this conference? Los Angeles.

Is anyone from Utah in attendance here in Los Angeles? Um, still looking.

Three years ago, an Olympic-related conference, SportAccord, was held amid the IOC's policy-making executive board meeting. Where? Denver.

What has Salt Lake done for the IOC since 2002?

This, again, Mr. Governor, is why Salt Lake has no chance.

Though you undoubtedly have been briefed, Mr. Governor, that Denver and Reno-Tahoe are your domestic competitors for 2022, and that Bozeman, Mont., may be interested as well, the real play for the United States may well be California in 2024.

Obviously, a 2024 candidacy would likely take 2026 out of the mix.

If, that is, there's any bid in play at all in the next few years.

There's just no urgency to bid, and here's hoping someone on your exploratory committee by now has told you this.

For starters, it's not at all critical for the Games to be back in the United States. Sure, it would be nice if the Games were back. But it's not an imperative -- not politically, economically or culturally. NBC just agreed to pay $4.38 billion for the rights to televise the Games through 2020; none of those Games is in the United States yet the sales price was hardly depressed.

Moreover, the U.S. Olympic Committee and IOC are locked in a long-running dispute over the 12.75 percent share of television rights and 20 percent cut of marketing rights the USOC gets from the IOC. The two sides are talking but progress has been halting.

There's no bid until there's a new deal, and it's not clear a deal will get done while Rogge is in office. He's president until September, 2013. That doesn't leave a lot of time to get a bid together in time for a 2015 vote for 2022; a bid these days typically runs north of $50 million.

As for Denver: they have to contend in Colorado with the 1970s Olympic give-back (still); the haul up to the mountains from Denver proper; and the environmental and financial issues inherent in building a bobsled track. Like, do we need another one in the American West when there's one next door in Utah?

Reno increasingly seems to be trying to package itself with California -- the Nevada-California border is right there -- and with San Francisco, four hours away.

Which only begs the question, right? Why go to Reno when you're inevitably drawn to San Francisco? That's one of the challenges the Reno bid is going to have to answer. Even in 1960, when the Winter Games were held in Squaw Valley, in the Sierras by the California-Nevada line, building on the same idea the Reno team is floating for 2022, the IOC held its session down in San Francisco.

It is true that the United States has become a Winter Games power and the finances of the movement have made staging the Winter Olympics a much more attractive option than ever before. But the primary play is, and always will be, the Summer Games.

There are lots of reasons San Francisco has never staged the Games. The politics are complicated; same for the traffic. But perhaps the main issue has always been, what about a stadium?

Earlier this month, the NFL announced it would give the 49ers $200 million toward a $1 billion, 68,500-seat stadium in suburban Santa Clara. Site work began in January. The stadium could open as soon as the 2014 season, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Unclear is whether the stadium could be configured for track and field or whether it's football-only.

Let's get back to Salt Lake. All the it-can't-happen evidence in this column -- people in Utah surely stand ready to dismiss it, eager to point to "sustainability" and to Mitt.

It is indisputably true that the facilities that helped Salt Lake stage the 2002 Games are still there. The airport; the venues; the mass-transit system; Interstate 80; all of that.

Doesn't matter.

For one, come 2022, that bobsled track -- just to pick one venue - is going to be 20 years old. It's not going to take some upgrading? That's not going to cost some money?

Beyond which -- those kinds of venues, facilities and things on the ground are what the IOC calls the "technical" stuff.

The technical stuff doesn't win votes. New York had a great technical bid and got 19 votes, eliminated in the second round. Chicago had a great technical bid and got bounced in the first round, with 18 votes.

The IOC likes to talk about "sustainable" Olympics. Then it goes and awards Games to London (2012 - huge construction project), Sochi, Russia (2014 - huge construction project), Rio (2016 - huge construction project) and Pyeongchang (2018 - huge construction project).

Someday, perhaps, that string will be snapped. But why would it be Salt Lake?

Olympic bids are won on emotion, on story-telling, on connection.

The memories that we Americans have of those Games as a patriotic expression of can-do just five months after 9/11?

Within the IOC, "Salt Lake" is still remembered for the bid scandal, for the sense of having to move within a post-9/11 armed camp, even for President Bush's addition to the opening-the-Games formula. He added, "On behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation" to the traditional formula, "I declare open the Games of Salt Lake City," and within the protocol-sensitive IOC you bet they still remember.

If the bet within Salt Lake City is that Mitt Romney, now running for the Republican nomination for U.S. president, would once again be cast as savior -- the position here is clear.

Romney, along with Fraser Bullock and the rest of the SLOC team, and the volunteers, deserve enormous credit for turning around the 2002 Olympics. The situation when he was brought in was, if not grim, pretty close to it. He and his team -- and everyone in Utah who contributed -- deserve full recognition for the success of the 2002 Olympics, and the $100 million surplus.

"I'm delighted that Utah is thinking about bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics," Romney said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "Our great nation is wonderfully suited to host the world's greatest sporting competition."

It's quite a proposition, though, that Romney as president would sway the IOC. First, he would have to get the Republican nomination; then be elected president of the United States; then convince the IOC. That's a lot of dominoes.

Remember that President Obama went to Copenhagen in 2009 to lobby the IOC on behalf of Chicago, his hometown, and to little effect.

Presumably, Romney would be greeted by the IOC as an Olympic insider. Then again, it's the IOC. One never assumes.