Opinion: Vancouver must work faster on potential 2030 Olympic bid

Feb 4 2022, 9:45 pm

Over the coming weeks, after the conclusion of the Beijing Olympic Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will quickly turn its attention to securing a host city for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games.

And this time around, as a result of the IOC’s immense reforms that reduce costs to the bidding and Games organizing processes, there is strong interest from multiple cities to submit a candidature for the 2030 Games.

Including Vancouver, all of the prospective bid cities are previous Olympics hosts, which could potentially make 2030 a tight race.

The other prospective bids are Sapporo in Japan, host of the 1972 Winter Games; Barcelona and Pyrenees in Spain, host of the 1992 Summer Games; and Salt Lake City in Utah, USA, host of the 2002 Winter Games.

One of the key differences that set Vancouver apart from the other three cities in terms of preparation is that the potential Canadian bid is comparatively a late entrant. Sapporo, Barcelona, and Salt Lake City have been seriously planning their bids for years, and their bid plans are now very advanced.

Not only have they conducted detailed planning, but they also have had public consultation and have made formal dialogue with the IOC.

Robert Livingstone with GamesBids, a Toronto-based online sports hosting news publication that has been comprehensively covering all Olympic bids for over two decades, says the Vancouver bid led by Four Host First Nations, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), and the municipal governments of Vancouver and Whistler need to accelerate their progress, display competitiveness, show a sense of urgency, and display a strong united front.

The time to put on a game face is now.

The IOC’s international bidding phase could start anytime, and it is possible they will not wait for Vancouver’s readiness.

Leaders in BC should be reminded that the Olympic bidding process is very different than what Vancouver experienced two decades ago for landing the rights to host 2010. Under the reforms, the IOC engages prospective hosts in one-on-one discussions and negotiations that do not follow the previous strict seven-year timeline in advance of awarding a host city.

The reforms led to the IOC’s decision last year to award Brisbane, Australia, the rights to host the 2032 Summer Games — 11 years in advance. Under the previous system, the IOC would have made a decision on the 2032 host city in 2025. The IOC announced in February 2021 it had deemed Brisbane as its “preferred candidate city,” and after months of final negotiations, in July 2021, it made the decision official.

In 2017, under the framework of the reforms, the IOC awarded Paris and Los Angeles the rights to host the Summer Games in 2024 and 2028, respectively. The simultaneous awarding, which was an Olympic first, followed the traditional seven-year timeline for 2024 but was 11 years in advance for 2028.

It is not inconceivable the IOC will not pull another “Brisbane/Paris/Los Angeles” style awarding process for the 2030 Games over the coming year if there is already a fully ready and willing partner at its door.

“Vancouver must work much faster if it hopes to target the 2030 Games. With its new bid process, the IOC could lock in a preferred candidate at any time, and there are definitely a couple of options on the table now that could be closed very soon,” Livingstone told Daily Hive Urbanized.

Sapporo’s bid plans are now well refined, as they build on the foundation of their cancelled bid to host the 2026 Winter Games, which will be held in Milan and Cortina in Italy. In 2018, Sapporo was forced to withdraw its bid after the Hokkaido earthquake.

“The IOC is already very familiar with those bids plans, and the IOC has been working closely with Japanese Olympic Committee officials while the Tokyo 2020 Games were being organized. The IOC also worked with Sapporo to organize the athletics road races for Tokyo 2020, so they have a close relationship,” said Livingstone, describing Sapporo’s advantages.

Following COVID-19’s enormous impacts on Tokyo 2020, which completely restrained Japan’s ability to enjoy its role as the host, there could be some sympathy from the IOC and a desire to provide Japan with an Olympic “redo” at the earliest opportunity that allows them to host the Games on their own and fullest terms.

With Barcelona, officials in Spain will hold a referendum before moving forward, and they are looking at performing this vote in the spring, which shows some urgency with the thinking that decisions by the IOC are set to be made in 2022 — not next year. He says that while Barcelona has been involved in the IOC’s continuous dialogue for at least two years, the Spanish bid has not shown unity as government partners and municipalities “continuously engage in political infighting.”

Livingstone notes that the opposite is true for Salt Lake City.

IOC president Thomas Back told Livingstone in December 2021 that what most impressed him about the Salt Lake City bid committee during a 30-minute call “was this great unity between the city and the Governor and [the] United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) president Susanne Lyons.” He added, “this was a good feeling.”

Salt Lake City had several meetings with the IOC over the past few months, and a delegation from its bid had planned to visit the IOC headquarters in Lausanne and were to meet with IOC officials in Beijing this month, but both meetings were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Livingstone says the Salt Lake City bid now has plans to travel to Lausanne this spring to advance their pitch.

The big question over Salt Lake City is whether they will submit a bid to host the Winter Games in 2030 or 2034.

The long-debated potential issue for Salt Lake City in 2030 is that it would come just 18 months after the much larger and more important Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games. There have been concerns that both Games would compete for the same limited pool of domestic sponsorship dollars within the United States market.

The detailed budget outlook for Salt Lake 2030/2034 is not known at this time, but the bid committee recently stated they are looking at a total organizing committee budget of US$2.2 billion.

The budget for Los Angeles 2028 is US$6.9 billion, with over US$2.5 billion coming from US domestic sponsorship. Los Angeles’ organizing committee is planning for a 100% privately-funded Games, including US$1.5 billion for the various investments in sports venue infrastructure. Ensuring its domestic sponsorship revenue potential is not detrimentally affected by the Winter Games in 2030 is a paramount priority for Los Angeles organizers.

But it appears that there is now a potential united partnership between Los Angeles 2028 and Salt Lake City’s bid committee to pursue 2030 for the possible one-two punch advantage of selling a two-Games sponsorship package.

A decision is expected to be announced soon on a potential partnership — whether Salt Lake City will pursue 2030 or 2034.

“What we’ve learned most over the past couple [of] years is that almost anything is possible, and problems can be solved. It’s clear the USOPC wants the 2030 Games, and I believe the perceived challenge of the US hosting both the Summer and Winter Games only 18 months apart can be overcome,” said Livingstone.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Los Angeles 2028 marketers spin this instead as an opportunity for domestic sponsors and develop package programs that cover both Games. It was the Los Angeles 1984 Games that first introduced the massive and lucrative sponsorship programs that make the Olympics viable today.”

Like Vancouver, Salt Lake City and other bids are eyeing 2030 to align the preparations and organizing activities of the Winter Games within the pandemic recovery period, given the expected years-long global economic and tourism impacts the pandemic will have even after it wanes.

The idea of Vancouver bidding for the 2030 Games was first publicly ignited by former VANOC CEO John Furlong in February 2020 during the 10-year anniversary festivities of Vancouver 2010.

The pandemic’s sudden onset likely delayed some of the detailed planning work that would have otherwise occurred earlier after February 2020.

As a result of the pandemic’s impact on Canadian athletes, the COC said it would not dedicate major resources to exploring a potential Vancouver 2030 bid until after completing its mission of safely preparing athletes competing in Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022.

In March 2021, Vancouver City Council voted to keep the door open for the possibility of bidding for the 2030 Games.

Then in December 2021, the Four Host First Nations —  Lilwat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh — and the City of Vancouver and the Resort Municipality of Whistler signed an agreement to collaborate and study the feasibility of an Indigenous-led bid and Games.

Early this week, the Four Host First Nations and municipalities of Vancouver and Whistler took another step by signing a collaborative agreement with the COC and Canadian Paralympic Committee on conducting planning work.

This is not to say that planning on a potential bid and Games concept has only just begun; current detailed research and technical assessment work to determine the feasibility builds on extensive preliminary work performed since 2020.

The current work will lead to a more formal concept review this spring, and then the creation of a draft hosting plan. For its part in supporting an international bid process, Vancouver City Council is expected to make a decision on its part in late spring or summer.

If a decision is made to proceed with the bid, the COC will continue its dialogue with the IOC under the international bidding process later in 2022. But this only assumes the IOC will not make a decision until 2023.

“If the IOC chooses a preferred candidate this year, it’s likely that Vancouver won’t have the time to catch up to the other bids,” said Livingstone.

“But if public opinion in Pyrenees-Barcelona and Sapporo is unsupportive, the IOC might be forced to wait some more time and Vancouver will have a chance to further develop plans and catch up. Otherwise, the IOC will be happy to shelve Vancouver as an option for 2034.”

The idea of Vancouver 2030 is grounded on the intention to bring a much-needed economic and tourism boost to BC. It is evident from the past two years that much of BC’s economy revolves around tourism, which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the province, with much of the activity centred in Metro Vancouver and the Sea to Sky Corridor.

Reinvestments are needed to support and attract tourism; tourism-dependent economies around the world have already begun ramping up their efforts to be a standout tourist destination, following the great global reset on tourism.

The 2030 Games could also offer much-needed affordable housing for Vancouver and Whistler, and accelerate major public transit projects, especially SkyTrain’s Millennium Line extension from Arbutus to UBC. Just like what unfolded in the years leading up to 2010, it would help bring back Ottawa’s attention, typically focused on Ontario and Quebec, to BC, which does not receive its fair share in federal investments for affordable housing, infrastructure, and cultural attractions.

All the while the 2030 Games would largely reuse the same facilities and sports venues renovated and/or built for the 2010 Games, reducing the costs associated with staging the event.

The 2030 Games would also provide Metro Vancouver, Whistler, and BC with an uplift, reigniting a much-needed sense of community, and civic and national pride.

And Vancouver 2030, as an Indigenous-led Games, would provide meaningful and tangible economic and cultural reconciliation for our local First Nations. If not on the world stage, then where and when?

An Indigenous-led Games, the first-ever of its kind in Olympic history, also potentially offers a compelling and differentiating vision from not only the competing bids but also the different approach that is needed after hosting the 2010 Games just 12 years ago this month.

That said, Vancouver 2010 is regarded internationally as a highly successful Olympics that provided ample, highly-used, post-Games legacies. The experience and knowledge gained from 2010 lives on in the region’s sports hosting know-how, which landed Vancouver major events such as the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup and its annual stop for World Rugby’s Rugby Sevens.

Vancouver 2030 would be in a better position if a fire is lit underneath today on getting a potential bid where it needs to be sooner than later, not to rush the process — certainly this is an event that should be on our terms — but to acknowledge the very real competition and urgency.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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