The International Olympic Committee is considering overhauling the format of the Winter Olympics by using a rotating slate of host cities rather than electing a new location every four years as it contends with the effects of climate change.
The IOC said it will delay awarding the 2030 winter games — originally set to be decided next year — as its executive board contemplates academic research about climate sustainability, proposals to cycle the games through a pool of hosts, and whether those locations would need to adhere to a set of climate criteria.
The 2026 Olympics are already scheduled for Milan-Cortina, Italy.
A potential shake-up of the Winter Olympics could be the most significant change to the global sporting event’s logistics since the IOC opted to split those games from their summer counterpart, beginning in 1994. The decision to delay selection of a 2030 host also comes amid declining enthusiasm, particularly in Europe, for mounting bids to host the sporting spectacle.
Octavian Morariu, an IOC executive board member leading the review, said in a statement that “the new, flexible approach to electing Olympic hosts was designed so the IOC could respond swiftly and effectively to ever-changing global circumstances”.
Among the IOC’s concerns are widespread declines in global snow cover as average temperatures on earth continue to rise. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US meteorological regulator, snow cover in the North American Arctic has been below average for 15 consecutive years.
The IOC said it will consider a proposal that future winter games host cities would “need to show average minimum temperatures of below zero degrees for snow competition venues at the time of the games over a 10-year period”.
Three previous winter games hosts have said they are interested in potentially hosting the 2030 fixture, including Salt Lake City in the US, Sapporo in Japan, and Vancouver. In October, British Columbia’s minister for arts, tourism and culture said the Canadian province would not support a Vancouver bid, citing billions of dollars in direct costs and liability risks “that could jeopardise our government’s ability to address pressures facing British Columbians right now”.
Fraser Bullock, chief executive of the Salt Lake City bid, said the decision to delay the 2030 host was a surprise. “While that was disappointing, the context was good,” he said, referring to the IOC’s concerns about climate change.
Bullock said Salt Lake City, in the state of Utah, will continue to prepare a bid for either the 2030 or 2034 events in addition to becoming a rotating host. “We would love to be a candidate for that,” he said.
Skyrocketing costs of hosting the games, coupled with lack of support in public referendums, have forced the IOC to rethink its process for awarding the sporting events. The organisation, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, opted to give the 2028 Summer Olympics to Los Angeles at the same time as awarding the 2024 games to Paris, after both cities campaigned for the earlier slot.
Six cities originally bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which was ultimately hosted by Beijing. Four dropped out before the IOC election, leaving the choices between the Chinese capital and Almaty, Kazakhstan.