BidWeek: A Crazy Plan To Save Rome’s 2024 Olympic Bid

Robert Livingstone shares his thoughts in his BidWeek column

Robert Livingstone shares his thoughts in his BidWeek column

Bidweek, Reporting from Toronto, Canada – Rome’s bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024 teeters on the brink of collapse, waiting on the fateful words of Mayor Virginia Raggi who promised to dismantle the project during her election campaign last spring.  Recent reports suggest that her intentions have not changed.

Raggi had promised to meet with Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) President Giovanni Malago, after the Paralympic Games that concluded in Rio de Janeiro Sunday, to discuss the bid – something that is considered a courtesy ahead of an October 7 deadline when Rome 2024 is supposed to submit bid endorsement letters from pubic leaders to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), including one from the Mayor.

The Mayor is expected to deny CONI that endorsement forcing the withdrawal of the bid – the second such cancelation by Rome in four years.  Now a press conference is scheduled for Wednesday at Rome’s City Hall where she will announce her decision.

The news of the arranged press conference broke just as I was wrapping up this column, and Raggi is expected to meet with Malago just prior to the announcement – so please bear with me as you continue to read.

It would be a shame if Rome withdraws, putting the investment of spent funds and effort to waste – and shelving imaginative and inspiring plans and the dreams of 52 per cent of Romans who said they supported the effort in a recent poll.

But if there is any way that Raggi and Giovanni can discuss the bid constructively – I believe they can arrived at a solution to make this work and get Rome’s bid to the finish line in Lima next September.

Rome 2024 Olympic Bid Committee launches construction of sports centre (Rome 2024 Photo)

Rome 2024 Olympic Bid Committee launches construction of sports centre (Rome 2024 Photo)

Raggi, a member of Italy’s Five Star Movement, has said that she opposes the bid, not the Olympic Games themselves.  As Rome works to recover from the recent recession she believes available funds should be spent on more fundamental city services in Rome and not on preparations for the Olympics.

The rising Five Star Movement gained greater acceptance across Italy in the latest elections in June.  Positioned as a party that opposes the establishment, voters were drawn by the anti-corruption platform – something that is also often associated with the organization of the Olympic Games.

Rome’s Mayor will likely be under pressure from her party to immediately cancel the bid staying true to her word and the movement’s direction.  But is there an alternate decision to appease both sides?

I am not closely familiar with Italian Politics and maybe my thoughts will reveal naivety on the issue, but perhaps an outsider view will add value to the conversation.

Raggi reportedly said last month regarding Rome’s bid “let’s first think about abandoned municipal installations and sport in schools.”

Rome's leading Mayorial Candidate Virginia Raggi (Twitter Photo)

Rome’s Mayor Virginia Raggi (Twitter Photo)

Indeed, subsequently the bid has released a comprehensive survey of this sport and school infrastructure in the city – already a valuable legacy from the bid alone.  They’ve also mapped out strategies to improve on these facilities.

Is there a way, then, for the Mayor to work with the bid committee to further her goals for the city instead of dismissing the project altogether?  Could the Mayor transform the bid to something, anything, that is endorsable by her and her party?

The IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 that was passed in 2014 helped underline the importance of cost efficiency and positive legacies with respect to hosting the Olympic Games.  The manifestation of these ideals has since been left up to the interpretation by potential hosts – and results have varied.

Beijing claimed that a proposal to construct an “already planned” high-speed rail line to link two 2020 Winter Games clusters that are currently separated by three-hours of travel – fits nicely within the Agenda 2020 framework.  On the other end of the spectrum Los Angeles are touting a more compact plan where most venues are already built.

Why couldn’t Raggi and Rome 2024 then propose the Italian vision of Olympic Agenda 2020 – a Games that fits perfectly within the city’s existing plans and goals?  Perhaps venues would be shared with other nearby municipalities to further reduce the number of required new facilities. Maybe the transport plan isn’t ideal – but adequate, and of value to the city as a legacy.  Rome could follow Rio’s lead and take ceremonies and the more cosmetic elements of the Games back to the basics in order to save on massive outlays of cash.

A plan to integrate school facilities in the Games concept and provide a legacy for grass-roots sport could be envisioned, as the Mayor has asked for.

It’s not too late.  Plans can change and the IOC should honour such a request if they really hope to keep Agenda 2020 viable.

The IOC will provide (USD) $1.7 billion towards the organization of the Games, that’s significant and will go a long way to finance Games-time services.  The infrastructure budget?  That can be controlled by using only facilities that are available – no matter how widespread the footprint is.

For the IOC, they can take it or leave it.  Of course, there is no guarantee that such a reformed bid would win, or even be competitive.  Indeed, there are never any guarantees for any city that bids no matter how strong and elaborate its plans are.

CONI President Giovanni Malagò (Rome 2024)

CONI President Giovanni Malagò (Rome 2024)

But for Rome, following through on the plans will be of value.  A large portion of the bid costs have already been spent or at least budgeted.  Positive legacies of the bid are already evident, as is with the case of the sport facility census delivered earlier in the month.

But more importantly, a second straight embarrassing departure from the process could cause irreparable damage that will prevent an Italian bid for years to come leaving a generation without that Olympic dream.  If Rome were eager to instead bid for 2028, or 2032 when current municipal problems become a distant memory, a completed 2024 bid will provide the needed momentum for future success.

And most importantly, a realistic “Games for the city and not city for the Games” plan could create a blueprint for the IOC and a real test for Agenda 2020.  Who knows, it may even help save the Olympic movement which, from a host city perspective, seems to be spiraling out of control.

Raggi could be the unexpected hero of Rome’s Olympic bid.

Sure, it’s a little bit crazy.  No – it’s a lot crazy.  But it might also instill a little bit of sanity into a process that currently seems to lack any sense.

But certainly by now Raggi has made her decision, and a fateful one it will be.

About Robert Livingstone

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of 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.