Rome’s new Mayor scotched the city’s candidacy for the 2024 Olympic Games today, saying that previous host cities such as London had been left with massive cost overruns and huge debts.
Hosting the Olympics could quickly turn from a “dream” into a “nightmare”, Virginia Raggi said, describing the Games hosted by London, Sydney and Athens as “a global flop” because of the amount of money they cost.
Raggi, a 38-year-old lawyer from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, said Italy was still paying off debts from hosting the 1960 Olympics and the 1990 World Cup.
The Games would benefit big business and construction “lobbies” but not ordinary people, she told a press conference in Rome’s Renaissance-era town hall.
Olympic venues built by other cities around the world often became “empty skeletons”, abandoned and forgotten, she said.
She cited a study this year by Oxford University which found that the cost of hosting the Games was often far more than initially forecast.
Raggi’s announcement reversed a decision taken by Ignazio Marino, her predecessor as Mayor, to put the capital forward for the 2024 Games.The report, published in July, concluded that “for a city and nation to decide to stage the Olympic Games is to take on one of the most costly and financially most risky types of mega-project that exists, something that many cities and nations have learned to their peril”.
It would be “irresponsible” to try to secure the Games when Rome had so many other problems to address, she said. The initial plan had envisaged beach volleyball being held in the Circus Maximus, the city’s ancient chariot-racing arena, and the marathon being routed around some of Rome’s most impressive monuments, including the Colosseum.
But after years of corruption and mismanagement, the city is in dire straits – it can barely collect rubbish, mend potholes and provide efficient public transport services, let alone organise the biggest sporting extravaganza on the planet.
Bidding for the 2024 Olympics would be against the interests of ordinary people, the Mayor said, citing a study that found that nearly 70 per cent of Romans were against the idea.
The rejection of the Olympic bid will have to be approved by Rome city council. If confirmed, it will leave only Budapest, Paris and Los Angeles in the running for the 2024 Games. The winner will be announced by the International Olympic Committee next September.
The announcement was a blow to the IOC, which is struggling to convince cities of the economic benefits of hosting the Games. Boston dropped out of the race last year and voters in Hamburg rejected the city’s 2024 bid in a referendum.
Hailed as the poster girl of the Five Star Movement, Raggi has had a chaotic three months in office since being elected in June. Her Administration has suffered a spate of resignations, some of her appointees are being investigated for alleged abuse of office and the council is gripped by a sense of paralysis.
The decision to abandon the Olympic bid was criticised by opposition politicians. “After the disasters in Rome, the Five Star Movement is now inflicting enormous harm on the whole country,” said Salvatore Margiotta, a senator from the centre-left Democratic Party of Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister.
Giovanni Malago, the president of the Italian Olympic Committee, was scathing of Raggi’s announcement. “Don’t talk about things you know nothing about,” he said, urging the Mayor not to put the motion before the city assembly.