Rome 2024 is Down, But Not Yet Out – Here’s Why We May Be Surprised

no_romeOne thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks while trying to track the tribulations of Rome’s 2024 Olympic Bid – Italian politics are complicated.

One thing I know from decades of following the Olympic bid process, and the Olympic movement – they’re complex too.

Combine them, and you end up with a myriad of possible paths and conclusions that often don’t entirely make sense.  How many times have we heard that Rome is out of the race?

Anti-Olympic bid Mayor Virginia Raggi wins Mayoral election in Rome – the bid is doomed.  She snubs the Italian Olympic powers that be, ahead of a press conference where she denies her support for the bid, says horrible things about the “opportunity” and then calls for a motion to quash it – seems like the end.  Further, her majority party in city council overwhelmingly votes to finish the bid – now certainly that’s the end.  Right?

Wrong.

The bid is technically still alive, and there is a path forward.  I’m not pretending that it’s a realistic path, or one that the bid will take – in fact it’s highly unlikely that the bid will survive until the end of next week without an official withdraw of the application.  But if you follow along I will help untangle this.

The bid is an entity of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and it is autonomous from Italian political forces, so it can technically move forward without any political approval.  Rome 2024 enjoys, however, the full spectrum of political and stakeholder support now with only the exclusion of City Council.  Granted, that’s a big omission – but it is a void created by unrelated and volatile politics that can swing in any moment.  Raggi’s tenure is anything but stable.

Next Friday (October 7) Rome, along with rivals Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris are required to submit part 2 of the bid documents, a section the IOC calls “Governance, Legal and Venue Funding.”  In that package endorsements from various governments and other stakeholders are required – including that of the municipality of Rome.  Clearly, the latter endorsement will be absent from Rome’s Dossier.  But as long as the package is delivered – no matter how complete – or incomplete – it is, the deadline is met.

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi (centre) removes support from Olympic bid at City Hall (Twitter Photo)

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi (centre) motions to end Olympic bid at City Hall (Twitter Photo)

IOC President Thomas Bach is due in Rome October 4th to attend an unrelated Faith and Sport Conference where he will reportedly meet with the Pope.  CONI President Giovanni Malago has told reporters that he will also meet with Bach to discuss the current state of Rome’s bid.  With the recent decline of interested potential host cities and rise of self-exiting campaigns, Bach is highly likely to be as supportive and as flexible as possible and might encourage Malago to continue with the application despite Raggi’s opposition.

The Rome 2024 bid committee says they have already begun a dialog with the IOC over the situation at City Hall so perhaps the meeting Tuesday is meant to be constructive rather than a formality.

But the Mayor isn’t going to budge, so why stay in the race?

It will buy time – there isn’t too much of an incentive for CONI to give up so fast.

The IOC’s Olympic bid evaluation commission will spend the next two months poring over the newly submitted documents and will then create a dashboard report for the Executive Board (EB) members to review when they meet in Lausanne starting December 6.  The report will certainly underline Rome’s Mayoral issue and it will be then that EB members could determine that Rome’s application is nonviable and dismiss the campaign from the race.  At that point Malago and bid chief Luca di Montezemolo will be forced to accept the bid’s fate fate.

But then there’s this.

The final chapter of the bid book is due February 3, 2017 and at that time bid committees can submit updates – and presumably report on any changes in stakeholder support.  The current bid process is new and being tested for the first time.  A result of Olympic Agenda 2020 – the set of reforms designed to make bidding more friendly for candidates – the process is intended to be flexible and allow the IOC to work with cities and not against them.

Make no mistake, with the smallest initial field of applicants in decades, the IOC will want Rome to stay in the race more than Rome wants to be in the race.

So, what if the IOC EB keeps Rome in the race despite its support issue?  Then, the evaluation based on all three parts of the bid process won’t be released until the following June.

Fine then, Rome can buy lots of time.  Months of it.  But why would they want to do that?

This is where Italian politics come in, an area which I do not fully understand but will try to apply.  Raggi’s first three months in office have been rocky, she has been under fire for the same lack of transparency she promised to fight against during her election campaign.  There have been murmurs of a recall.  A lot can happen in two months, in four months, or even eight months.  Perhaps there is a chance to get back that municipal support.  Perhaps a chance to get back in the race.

Some questions do remain though.  Can Rome still raise the funds needed to adequately run a robust campaign, even as it is severely wounded?  If the city remains in the race it will need to pay a fee of (USD) $150,000 to the IOC in January, a cost that pales in comparison to what must be paid to staff, for marketing, travel and much more.

Would an unsupported campaign be taken seriously enough to be competitive?  The IOC, while they may welcome Rome in the race, wouldn’t likely elect a bid that has been exposed to so much ill will.

So then, why even bother?  Why not get out and end the bleeding immediately?

IOC President Thomas Bach (left) with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi in Lausanne January 21, 2016 (IOC Photo)

IOC President Thomas Bach (left) with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi in Lausanne January 21, 2016.  Renzi supports the bid but Rome Mayor Raggi is opposed (IOC Photo)

Rome probably will exit the race, officially, very soon.  But if they could hold on, there would be some value.

Malago already said last week that if Rome exits the race for the second time in four years (don’t forget, Italy’s Prime Minister forced the cancelation of Rome’s 2020 bid amid economic woes) that the next bid won’t likely be for at least 20 years and perhaps longer.  If the bid can hang on and remain in contention, it will be a positive gesture in the eyes of the IOC possibly paving the way for a strong 2028 bid – the IOC values persistence and patience (see Rio, PyeongChang and Tokyo).  At least from a political perspective, Malago and CONI would avoid some embarrassment from the setback.

On Saturday Di Montezemolo admitted that the bid was now “closed,” but that seemed more of an opinion than fact.

Rome 2024 has continued a relentless but well-organized social media campaign striking back at Raggi’s talking points against the bid and exposing incorrect facts she says she based her decision on.  On Thursday a Twitter post made it clear “no application has been withdrawn at this point in the process” and posts against the Mayor’s decision that have been appearing daily continued until late in the day Saturday.

It may all come down to the chat between Malago and Bach on Tuesday, and a discussion about what’s possible within the framework of the process and the situation at city hall.  Bach has frequently urged creativity from bid campaigns – maybe this is one such opportunity.  Who know’s, maybe Bach will ask the Pope for advice?

What is clear is this standoff is about national politics and not sport – it’s two opposed political parties flexing their muscles, using the Olympics as a pawn.  Enter Bach, who is not used to being a pawn.  It should be interesting.

Robert Livingstone

About Robert Livingstone

Robert Livingstone is a senior editor, award-winning journalist and author, covering Olympic bid business as founder of GamesBids.com as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. He is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians. Follow him @enotsgnivil