Rome mayor pulls plug on city’s bid to host 2024 Olympics

Virginia Raggi says ‘irresponsible’ bid would lead to city building up more debts

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi during a news conference on Wednesday. “It would be totally irresponsible to say yes to this bid,” she said. Photograph: Remo Casilli/Reuters

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi during a news conference on Wednesday. “It would be totally irresponsible to say yes to this bid,” she said. Photograph: Remo Casilli/Reuters

 

Embattled Rome mayor Virginia Raggi of the Five Star Movement walked into further controversy on Wednesday when she said she was withdrawing Rome’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

“It would be totally irresponsible to say yes to this bid,” she told a news conference. “We have already said this and we say it again. It would mean running up more debts and we are against that. The money to be invested comes from Roman citizens but it is destined for projects far removed from the interests of those citizens.”

In essence, Ms Raggi said that while she had “nothing against the Olympics”, she feared that the 2024 Games would be used as an excuse for building speculation all around Rome. Arguing that the city is still faced with substantial debt from the 1960 Rome Olympics, Ms Raggi also highlighted a number of unfinished and expensive projects in Rome related to the 1990 soccer World Cup and to the 2009 swimming world championships.

Ms Raggi, who was elected in June with a massive 67.2 per cent of the vote in a run-off ballot, has struggled to get her city government up and running since taking office.

She has been under pressure in recent weeks after five city officials, and then her chief of staff, quit their offices. Ms Raggi was also summoned to appear before a parliamentary commission, looking into Rome’s long-running rubbish collection problems.

During her electoral campaign, she had stressed that such was the size of Rome’s €13 billion debt, and so diverse were the everyday problems facing the city, that “I would consider it criminal to start talking about the Olympics when Rome is dying, suffocated by traffic and holes in the roads”.

Roma2024, the committee for the promotion of the Rome bid, argued on Wednesday that rather take the decision, which is due to be ratified at a town council meeting next week, Ms Raggi should have put the issue to a city referendum.  

Ms Raggi and the Five Star Movement (M5S) argue, however, that her mandate last June was a de facto referendum given that there was no secret about her opposition to Rome’s Olympic candidacy.

Earlier in the day, there had been something of a diplomatic incident when Ms Raggi failed to appear for a pre-arranged meeting with the president of CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee and major sponsor of the Rome bid. After waiting 35 minutes in the town hall for Ms Raggi, CONI president Giovanni Malago stormed off, visibly annoyed at what he called a lack of “respect”.  

Later Mr Malago described the mayor’s allegations about the debts of the 1960 Olympics as “populist demagogy”, claiming there was “no real reason” not to bid for the 2024 Games.