ROME, Italy, Sep 21 – Rome’s bid to host the 2024 summer Olympics was dealt a potentially fatal blow on Wednesday after the city mayor refused to give her formal backing.
Giovanni Malago, president of Italy’s Olympic Committee (CONI), said last week the organisation would abandon its bid to host the Games in the event Virginia Raggi said no.
Her announcement now appears to have killed off Rome’s hopes, leaving Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest as the sole candidates to host the 2024 Games.
In an emphatic speech in front of bid supporters, opposition and media in Rome, the mayor was unequivocal.
“This is our position: it is irresponsible to say yes to this candidature,” Raggi told a packed media conference.
“We are effectively asking the people of Rome and of Italy to shoulder the debts (accrued by hosting the Games). We just don’t support it.
“Sport was an integral part of our electoral campaign, but we don’t want it to be used as a pretext to a building spree around the city.”
The Rome bid is not officially over quite yet and CONI could still in theory turn to the national government, which backs the bid, but the city looks all but out the running.
Raggi had already enraged Malago and fellow CONI members when she and her entourage appeared 35 minutes late for crunch talks scheduled prior to the announcement.
Malago departed, refusing to talk to waiting television cameras, and the highly anticipated announcement was delayed for over an hour.
But when it came, for many it was no surprise.
“Hearing ‘no’ hurts,” said Malago, who claimed he had been denied meetings with the mayor’s office on several occasions leading up to Wednesday.
“I’m very sorry. The rules of the game have changed. It was possible to do this, and do it well.
“It’s a mistake to put the costs of the Games and other costs into the same basket.”
– ‘Bid unsustainable’ –
Raggi succeeded the controversial Ignazio Marino in October 2015 after promising to “fight corruption and bring back Rome’s splendour”.
A year earlier, a wide-reaching scandal had exposed the extent of criminal infiltration in a number of city bidding contracts, leading to Marino’s downfall.
As the first female mayor of the Eternal City, Raggi is determined to get Rome’s house in order.
After years of mismanagement of the city, hosting an Olympics is not top of her list of priorities.
Raggi highlighted the spiralling deficits of former host cities and, in a reference to the building work that would be required, said she opposed another “concrete Olympics”.
“The debts related to the Torino winter Games in 2006 are still ongoing. I say no to another concrete Olympics,” she said.
Malago had previously pledged that the estimated 5.3-bn-euro budget for the 2024 Games would come exclusively from the Olympic Committee, sponsors and state coffers.
But Raggi added: “Boston, Hamburg and Madrid all had strong reasons to oppose hosting the (2024) Games. As Rome mayor I believe this bid is unsustainable.
“We don’t need more white elephants. We need to restore the existing facilities, make the entry prices affordable to our citizens.”
The winning candidate will be announced in September 2017.
Budapest bid spokesman Ivan Rozsa said the Hungarian capital was proceeding with its planning, regardless of developments in Rome.
“With a year to go until the IOC decision, Budapest’s focus is on assembling the strongest possible bid in the spirit of the new IOC Agenda,” Rozsa told AFP.
“There is no confirmation that Rome has departed from the 2024 race and as such it is not appropriate for us to offer any comment except to wish our Italian colleagues well during this period of difficult time.”