That’s it! Basta! Finito! Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi has effectively ended all hopes for the eternal city to host the Olympic Games in 2024, or anytime in the foreseeable future, by withdrawing the official support of city authorities. This move is not entirely unexpected as Raggi and her party, the Five-Star-Movement, have been fierce opponents of the bid throughout her election campaign and also after getting elected in June this year. But the way she did it and the reasoning she put behind this decision, reveals some alarming issues that might have enormous effects on the bid process as a whole and repercussions within the IOC and the Olympic Movement. Well, at least they should…
Rome is the second candidate city to withdraw from the 2024 race, following the failed referendum in Hamburg last November. Before the candidature phase, Boston had been a strong contender but also withdrew, citing a lack of public support. Los Angeles, host of the 1932 and 1984 Games, soon became the American candidate and seems to be in pole position right now.
The truly worrying thing about these drop-outs is, that the reasoning behind them looks so similar. It’s a combination of worries about the costs of the Games and a general public mistrust against sports organisations, in particular the IOC. Now, as far as finances are concerned, the three cities who originally proposed the lowest budgets, whose ideas were totally in line with the IOCs Agenda 2020, and who really had solid and transparent plans for staging sustainable and financially affordable Games, were Boston, Hamburg and Rome. Yes, Olympic Games are expensive. Yes, host cities do not always benefit immediately financially. Yes, in many cases the Games became much more expensive than originally planned. Yes, Rio de Janeiro is only the latest example of host cities in serious financial difficulties.
That’s all true. The thing is, there are certain things that could be done against it. The IOC already promoted the idea of hosting more ‘affordable’ Games, encouraging NOCs to submit sustainable bids with a thorough financial planning, with several opportunities to reduce the costs. Those opportunities are there. The IOC (officially) wants candidate cities to use them. This has led Boston and Hamburg and Rome to propose Games that would not have been bigger than ever before, with a large number of venues already in existence, with early and reliable planning for the further use of the Olympic venues after the Games. All of these bids failed. All of which because the electorate was either not aware of the plans or not convinced that they would work.
And here is the even bigger problem. They could not be convinced because they have no trust at all in sports organisations such as the IOC. Many people, especially in Central and Western Europe, consider the IOC as a corrupt institution, its members as criminals, only seeking their personal financial gains, its policies focussing on sponsorship deals and broadcast rights, with little regard for the needs of athletes, and virtually no regard for human rights issues, etc. While it is clear that not all of the IOC members are corrupt criminals, that many of them are current or former Olympic athletes, and I really believe that a significant number of them still has a primary interest of promoting sports for the athletes and not their own pocket, what the IOC, some (too many!) of its members, IFs like FIFA, and other stakeholders have done lately in this regard is dramatically deteriorating this whole situation. Every single sports official engaged in criminal practices, selling their votes for world cup hosts, covering widespread Doping cases or even contributing to a state-run Doping system, every official threatening whistleblowers or journalists or assisting and supporting others in doing so, every official with connections to illegal betting circles or to organised crime, is life-threatening for the Olympic Movement as a whole. The Movement has to react. And so far it has so horribly failed in doing anything, allowing those criminals to act freely, without having to fear criminal prosecution or, perhaps more significant to them, losing their Olympic ‘benefits’.
The IOC itself has done far too little to combat these crimes against sport, against the Olympic idea. Instead they have been busy, prosecuting whistleblowers, athletes tweeting during the Games, athletes mourning the death of a team member’s relative… All of that makes it so easy for certain groups and political parties opposed to the Games for a variety of different reasons to implement and promote their own agenda. This is what happened in Rome, this is what happened in Hamburg, and in Munich, and in Oslo. If the IOC and the International Federations have any interest in staging Olympic Games outside of China, Russia, Qatar and Azerbaijan in the future, they have to react urgently. And if any NOC in Europe would like to host the Games at some time during the next fifty years, they also have to act now, put the necessary pressure on the IOC and ensure transparent procedures within their own committees.
Yes, Rome’s withdrawal is a disaster. It is a horribly wrong decision. And it will cost the city dearly in the future. As was the case for Hamburg and on a smaller scale Boston. But given the total, self-created mess the IOC finds itself in at the moment, the decision is, to a certain extent, understandable. The IOC was right in drafting Agenda 2020, the candidate cities were right in implementing it in their proposals. But the necessity to regain a certain degree of trust has been neglected for far too long.
Oh, just to make that clear: technically, it’s not the mayor of Rome who decides whether to proceed with the bid or not. That is up to CONI (Italy’s NOC). But without her support, it is very clear that there’s absolutely nothing left for them to do but to withdraw the bid.
Roma locuta, causa finita.