ROME » Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi rejected the city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics today, effectively dooming the capital’s candidacy for the second time in four years.
If approved by Rome’s city assembly, Raggi’s motion to withdraw the bid would leave only Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, in the running for the 2024 Games. The International Olympic Committee will decide on the host city in September 2017.
At a news conference in city hall, Raggi said it would be financially “irresponsible” to pursue the bid any further given the city is barely able to get its trash picked up. She highlighted the debts that previous Olympic host cities have incurred and the unfinished infrastructure already dotting Rome from previous sporting bids as reasons to justify the withdrawal.
“In light of the data we have, these Olympics are not sustainable. They will bring only debt,” she said. “We don’t want sports to become another pretext for more cement foundations in the city. We won’t allow it.”
Raggi drew up a motion to withdraw the bid today and put it before the city assembly, which has the final say. There was no immediate word if and when the council would take it up.
Raggi had been scheduled to meet with Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago before going public with her decision. But about 45 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to begin, Malago and the rest of the delegation left city hall saying Raggi hadn’t shown up.
Raggi said she was just running late. But Malago bitterly complained about what he called Raggi’s “disrespect” and ignorance of the bidding process and costs. He urged her not to put the motion to the assembly.
“Don’t talk about things you know nothing about,” he told a news conference at the headquarters of the national Olympic body.
Malago said the committee would continue working on the bid in the absence of a formal vote, noting the next dossier must be submitted to the IOC on Oct. 7.
“If there’s no formal act, we can continue,” he said. “They can’t just declare it in a news conference.”
Indeed, rival cities weren’t ready to count Rome out altogether.
“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,” the Budapest Olympic committee said.
Raggi, who was elected in June representing the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, campaigned with the message that an Olympic bid was unsustainable for a city struggling to emerge from years of corruption and poor public services. She said she was merely being consistent with her campaign position.
Her rejection marks Rome’s second withdrawal in four years after then-Premier Mario Monti stopped the city’s plans to bid for the 2020 Olympics because of financial problems.
The Rome bid was approved by the city assembly last year with 38 votes in favor and only six against — meaning Raggi will have to put the issue up for another vote to officially end the candidacy.
The IOC requires bidders to have support from the government and city.
Malago ruled out a bid for the 2028 Games, even from another Italian city.
“We’ve lost all credibility, if we pull out,” he said. “Because they’ll think people in Italy are not serious.”
Previous Mayor Ignazio Marino, who was forced out over an expense account scandal, had supported the bid. And Premier Matteo Renzi has been a big fan of the candidacy since he helped launch it in 2014. He has said the bid would be doomed if Rome’s mayor doesn’t support it.
A budget of 24 million euros ($27 million) has already been allotted — much of it spent — to the bid committee, even though candidacy head Luca Cordero di Montezemolo has no salary.
Raggi’s rejection was another stinging blow for the IOC’s “Olympic Agenda 2020” program, which was designed to make bidding for and hosting the games more flexible and more affordable.
“Rome was able to bid only after the IOC changed its rules with Agenda 2020 and reduced the costs of putting together a candidacy,” Malago said.
The bid had been slated to be centered around Rome’s historic monuments: a cycling sprint alongside the Roman Forum, beach volleyball at the Circus Maximus and the marathon passing through St. Peter’s Square and finishing under the Arch of Constantine. Plus, a nightly parade of athletes at the Colosseum.
Relying on many venues that were used for the 1960 Olympics in Rome, the candidacy proposed using existing structures for 70 percent of the required sites. The budget had been projected at $6 billion — 2.1 billion euros for the construction of permanent venues and the balance for temporary venues.
The bid was based on three clusters: the existing Stadio Olimpico and surrounding Foro Italico complex for athletics and swimming; the Fiera convention center near the airport for indoor sports; and an athletes village and multi-sports arena at the Tor Vergata University on the city’s outskirts.
The withdrawal is another clear signal that the IOC still has a lot of work to do to convince cities that hosting the games is a boon and not a burden.
Voters in Hamburg rejected the German city’s 2024 bid in a referendum. Boston also dropped out last year amid a lack of public and political support and was replaced by Los Angeles.
The “Olympic Agenda 2020” reforms were aimed at avoiding a repeat of the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, which was depleted by the withdrawal of four cities — Stockholm; Oslo; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland — for political or financial reasons. Many politicians and taxpayers were scared off by the billions spent by Russia on the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Planned 2022 bids by Munich and St. Moritz-Davos in Switzerland were dropped earlier. With only two final contenders for 2022, Beijing defeated Almaty, Kazakhstan, in the IOC vote last year.
“It’s very upsetting,” bid vice president Luca Pancalli said after Raggi’s announcement. “It’s like we started a race and someone gets out of the pool in the middle of the race and says we’re not racing any longer.”
Raggi, a 38-year-old lawyer who is Rome’s first female mayor, said during her candidacy that the city needed to focus on ordinary issues before it should consider “extraordinary events” like the Olympics.
Raggi has had a rough start since taking office, with her administration falling into disarray over a spate of resignations and judicial inquiries.
During her campaign, Raggi promised to fix Rome’s transport, garbage and corruption scandals.