GamesBids.com presents the ninth annual Top Ten list of Olympic Bid Stories for 2016. These stories impacted the course of Olympic host city bids, or the Olympic bid process, and formed interesting plot lines and story arcs for the year. We’ll run them down from 10th to 1st as the year ends – click on the links for details.
Top Olympic Bid Stories of 2016: #2 – Rome’s 2024 Olympic Bid Exit Illustrates What’s Wrong With Bid Process
Rome’s exit from the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic bid race could have been a footnote to the year, just another in a long list of European Olympic bids that couldn’t survive the backlash of growing populism in Europe and the belief that hosting the Games amounts to a bloated financial burden.
But instead, the dramatic fashion in which Rome’s bid was suspended, or canceled, or rejected, or interrupted – depending on who you listen to – became the perfect illustration of what is wrong with the bid process.
Poor communication. Poor messaging. Those are the common links.
The bid was officially suspended October 11 when Italy’s national Olympic committee (CONI) President Giovanni Malagò sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) indicating that the bid would be “interrupted.” That was an ambiguous statement at the time leaving everyone wondering what it all really meant.
Even the IOC was caught off guard and released a statement explaining “we have taken note of the decision by Rome 2024 and will further explore with the Candidature Committee what this means. All the circumstances and the information that we have received in the past days clearly demonstrate that this is about Italian politics only.”
That last part was already clear. For all practical purposes the bid was over four months earlier on June 20 when the Italian Radical Party candidate for the Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, defeated her opponents by a two-to-one margin. She had been campaigning on a platform that opposed the Olympic bid explaining that instead the city should focus on funding essential city services.
Though she never said it at the time, she had already decided to end the bid. But with the Rio Olympics only weeks away Raggi delayed any announcement until after the Games.
As the weeks passed the Mayor played coy when asked about the bid and twice delayed an announcement which at times gave hope to Olympic supporters in Italy. But on September 21 she made her decision bluntly, and while describing that any support for the bid would be “irresponsible” she withdrew the municipal endorsement and sent the decision to city council for a vote.
But moments before the Mayor announced her decision at an intense press conference at Rome’s city hall, the real drama played out. In the few days prior, reports from both the bid and city hall described a meeting that would occur between Raggi and Malagò to discuss the bid – this would have apparently been the only time the two parties would have ever discussed the project. But the meeting never took place.
The two sides don’t seem to agree on the timing of the events, but from what I could glean from Tweets and fuzzy local reports it seems that the Mayor arrived to the meeting as much as 35 to 45 minutes late; the meeting was scheduled to occur only one hour prior to the press conference. Malagò and his bid delegation left after waiting 35 minutes.
The Mayor reportedly said “I was a few minutes late, as I entered (CONI) President Malagò preferred to go away, and there was time, we were not 40 minutes late.”
Malagò responded “we’re leaving because 35 minutes of waiting is too much.”
And at that, the two stakeholders never discussed what could have been the largest event ever held in the city – and the Mayor walked across the hall to declare her final position.
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.
She may never have been briefed on the project or had the IOC’s Agenda 2020, reforms to promote cost-cutting measures and eliminate white elephant legacies, explained to her. Her arguments were focused on the financial results of past Games.
When the General Coordinator of Rome 2024 Diana Bianchedi attended the final city council vote one week later, where councilors voted 30 to 12 against the bid, she was not permitted to speak to the assembly on behalf of the bid.
Bianchedi told reporters “they are being asked to vote on a dossier though it seems the councilors haven’t read it. I wrote the councilors a few days ago. They’re being asked to put their signature on a project they don’t know. Shouldn’t they feel morally obligated, or at least curious, to see what’s in the dossier?”
Rome 2024 took to Twitter and Facebook with messages and memes describing all the opportunities that were lost by not moving the bid forward. It was a messaging campaign that was blunt, gloomy, and a little too late. It lashed out at Raggi’s erroneous claims, it lamented lost opportunities for jobs, the environment, accessibility and transportation.
It fell on deaf ears.
In her press conference Raggi had outlined a recent report that highlighted past Games cost overruns. Rio, Sochi, London, Vancouver, Beijing and so on… that’s all that resonated.
Rome 2024 just couldn’t get its Olympic message across.
And neither can the IOC, it seems. Nobody wants to listen anymore.
So what is that status of Rome’s “interrupted” bid? There was never any further update released, but it’s safe to assume that it is no longer a going concern.
This was in Rome, in the context of complex Italian politics – but what should the IOC do?
It starts with communication, and clear positive messaging.
Watch GamesBids.com or follow us on Twitter or Facebook and read the other top stories for the year listed so far, below. We’ll be counting them down until January 1.
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.