The significance of Salt Lake City - Utah 2034 lies in the decade ahead. SLC-UT2034

Mike Leavitt, Governor of Utah at the time of the 2002 Winter Olympics, spoke about the importance of the Olympic Games to the community at large, stressing that the benefits begin to be felt 10 years before the Games begin.

Michael Okerlund Leavitt, former Governor of the State of Utah in the United States of America from 1993 to 2003, provided advice during a roundtable discussion on how to make the 2034 Winter Games a generational success. The roundtable was hosted by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Public Policy Institute, in partnership with the Deseret News and the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, just days ahead of a visit by International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials. 

The IOC will visit Utah next week to personally inspect the proposed venues and finalise its decision on Salt Lake City, which appears to be the governing body's preferred host for the 2034 Winter Games. Salt Lake City's fate as host city will largely depend on this visit when the final decision is made in Paris on 24 July. 

Although there is still a decade to go until the Olympics and everyone in Utah is confident of winning the Games, there is not too much time to start planning the major projects the state hopes to tackle before welcoming the world again. That was the advice from former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, Senator Mitt Romney and other leaders following the roundtable discussion a few days ago.

Leavitt said the Olympics should be seen as more than just 17 days of competition. "The value of the Olympics to the state is the 10 years leading up to the games, when there is a lot of pressure that allows you to do a lot of things that you could never do in their absence," said the former governor, who was in office for nine of the ten years leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

At the time, there was a massive reconstruction of Interstate I-15, which runs north to south through the state of Utah, which was completed in record time to be ready for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

It would never have happened without the impending Winter Olympics "to make us do something difficult and risky. But we did it successfully," said the former governor, who went on to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the George W. Bush administration.

Senator Mitt Romney, who was appointed by Leavitt to head the Salt Lake Olympic Committee in 2002, said it would be necessary to invest in security and public transport to mobilise everyone during the Games. He also said that security would cost billions, but that the federal government was expected to pick up much of the tab.

When asked if a Winter Olympics could be compared to the Super Bowl, he didn't hesitate: "A Super Bowl is easy. Not even a comparison. What you are doing with the Olympics is a massive undertaking," he stressed.

"I laughed because it's like 50 Super Bowls," he told the crowd, adding that a Super Bowl is one day in one stadium, while an Olympics is 17 days in numerous venues across the State.

After the laughter, he turned serious, warning in his Internet message from Washington, D.C.: "Within ten years, our country is likely to face very difficult financial times. We are already in that situation, and many people are very angry about how much is being spent.

He suggested that efforts should begin immediately to urge Congress to provide annual funding to cover security and transportation costs not only for other Winter Games in Utah, but also for the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Working with California's congressional delegation will help increase Utah's "clout" in Washington, D.C. "I'm always worried about the numbers," he said, noting that these costs are not part of the "thoughtful" $2.45 billion budget proposed for organising the Winter Games, which is expected to come entirely from private sources, largely from the sale of sponsorships, broadcast rights and tickets.

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, which is behind the bid, assured the audience of about 100 people gathered at the Thomas S. Monson Center that the city had received 10 assurances from the federal government, including security, as part of the IOC's bid requirements.

Salt Lake City 2002 Organizing Committee chief Mitt Romney  shows off the 120 K Ski jump at Utah Olympic Park. GETTY IMAGES
Salt Lake City 2002 Organizing Committee chief Mitt Romney shows off the 120 K Ski jump at Utah Olympic Park. GETTY IMAGES

On security in particular, Bullock claimed that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had promised him that Salt Lake City 2034 would be designated as a special national security event, deserving the same level of federal security as the Super Bowl.

Bullock, who served as chief operating officer of the 2002 Games, noted that the federal government spent $240 million on security for that event, plus $87 million on spectator transportation, although he also said that the cost for 2034 would be at least three times as much.

Romney also said that while it might be tempting to keep telling people in Utah that the Olympics will be a great experience for them, they need to know that there will be difficulties.

"What happened with our Olympics that made them so successful was that people began to realise that this was an opportunity for us to serve the world. It was about service. It was about giving, not receiving," concluded the lawyer and businessman, who will become Utah's junior senator in January 2019.