In a crushing blow to both Italy’s Olympic dreams and the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) quest to bring back host city fever, Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi has denied support for her city’s Olympic bid, likely forcing its cancellation.
Raggi said “it’s irresponsible to say yes to this candidacy.”
The Mayor pointed to existing debt, the likely high costs to organize the Games, past Olympic Games financial failures and the potential that Olympic dreams could become nightmares as her reasoning behind the decision. Despite her frequent delays and flip-flopping on the issue, she said that this has always been her position.
The much-anticipated announcement came Wednesday afternoon at Rome City Hall after a planned meeting between Raggi and Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago and Italian Paralympic Committee President Luca Pancalli. Raggi, however, did not show up for the high-profile discussion.
The Five Star Movement Mayor who has campaigned opposed to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid that he supports finally pulled the plug on the weakening bid making it the second straight time the Italian city has withdrawn its candidature mid-campaign. The city bowed out of the 2020 race after then federal government backing was denied.
The 2024 bid was approved by the previous city assembly in 2015 by a vote of 38 to 6, but sweeping changes occurred in June elections. The new assembly will likely support Raggi’s position.
Amid economic woes and high unemployment Raggi pointed to the need for focusing funds on critical city infrastructure and services instead of diverting them to the preparations for an Olympic Games. Recent struggles for Brazil in that nation’s attempt to fund the Olympic Games in Rio after construction delays and cost over runs amid a major economic recession provided a convenient back story to support Raggi’s decision.
Lack of funds in Rio caused the axing of a complete cluster of venues that were being prepared for the upcoming Paralympic Games.
Italy ranked ninth among nations at the Rio Games with 28 total medals.
Rome’s budget for the bid phase was (USD) $27.5 million, a fraction of what the other cities plan to spend according to bid books filed earlier this year. Forty-six per cent of venues for a Rome Games were ready to go without any additional permanent work, 19 per cent exist but would have needed permanent additions and five per cent are already planned. There would have been seven temporary venues.
Raggi had until October 7 – the IOC’s due date of the second bid book that would have included evidence of various levels of required government support including the Mayor’s – but quickly it became clear that she would honour the promises she made during her election campaign and stop the bid from moving forward. She also had the option of putting the bid to a referendum, one that has been made possible by a signature collection campaign by the Italian Radical Party, but it was likely that the result would have been the same.
With Rome’s exit, and the demise of Hamburg after the German city lost a referendum and pulled out of the race last year, only three cities – Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris – remain in the race to host the Games. This follows a years long trend that has seen interest in bidding for the Games continually diminish.
For the 2020 Games three cities were on the ballot to host but only after two cities were left off the shortlist by the IOC and Rome had pulled out after the then Prime Minister withheld support. The IOC has not cut any cities from the list for 2024.
For 2016 Rio had to defeat three other cities to win the right to host after three others were pared from the final short list by the IOC’s Executive Board.
For 2012 Five cities remained on the final election ballot from an original list of nine applicant cities. There were ten applicant cities for 2008 and eleven cities for 2004. For each of 1992 and 1996 there were six cities on the final election ballot with several more applicants.
The IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020, a roadmap designed to steer the movement back in the right direction, has seen the implementation of reforms geared to make bidding easier, less expensive and more accessible to a greater number of cities. While changes have been made, the results have yet to be demonstrated.
Italy last hosted the Summer Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, and the Winter Games in 2006 in Turin.
The IOC will now elect the host city for the 2024 Games from among Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris on September 13, 2017 in Lima, Peru.
More to come.
A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.