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Opposition Brewing In Rome to 2024 Olympics Bid

13 Jul, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

There’s a battle brewing in Rome and it has nothing to do with the Christians and the lions.

The Italian capital's bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, considered very strong several months ago, is now facing an uncertain future with the city's new Mayor Virginia Raggi so far refusing to back it. Following a meeting with Pope Francis, Raggi unequivocally stated to the press that the bid for the Games was not ethical, and that she would seek a referendum to see if the city should continue with its campaign.

During an interview afterwards with Vatican Radio, Raggi claimed that Rome had only just finished paying for the 1990 FIFA World Cup, which she revealed was 92 million euros ($102 million in U.S. currency) per year.

"Do the math and see how much these events weigh heavily on the peoples' shoulders," the 37-year-old lawyer, elected as Rome's first female mayor last month, said. Raggi ran her campaign on an anti-Olympic mandate.

The arguments are bound to be interesting. According to an article in Inside The Games, five leading environmental organizations (Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Lipu, Italia Nostra and Legambiente) have endorsed the bid’s proposal for Rome. The groups have claimed the Olympics and Paralympics would benefit the city, allowing for investment in abandoned areas and buildings, and encouraging infrastructure.

Raggi, who was elected in June, was initially dismissed by Rome2024 officials, who claimed her opposition would not harm the bid. The pro-Olympics group agreed with Raggi’s comments concerning sporting facilities in the capital, which she said were “falling to pieces” because “no one ever cared to maintain or renovate them.”

However, while Rome2024 saw the Olympics as a way to fix the crumbling structures, Raggi made it very clear she saw it as a wasteful expense. And despite the pro-bid group’s claim that Agenda 2020, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, will help ensure costs related to the bid are kept down, Raggi isn’t convinced, and in the days and weeks following the election, a bitter enmity has developed between opponents and proponents of the Games.

Of course, Raggi also faces some stiff opposition herself. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has criticised her anti-Olympics stance and has urged her to offer the campaign support. A delegation from the Rome2024 campaign met with city leaders recently and noted that they were "open to dialogue" and possibly to making changes to the bid package. However, Raggi was not present at the meeting, and her supporters noted that her stance against the Games has not changed.

While the IOC’s decision on the 2024 Games is a long way off (the choice of a host city will be made at the IOC’s session in Lima in September 2017), the lead-up may go down in history as the first time several cities actively revolted against hosting.

The group that became known as #NoBostonOlympics was the first; its successful grassroots campaign saw the American bid city changed to Los Angeles. #NoBostonOlympics later journeyed to Hamburg, Germany, to speak to anti-Games organizations there; in a referendum, Hamburg residents voted against hosting the 2024 Olympics as well, much to the disappointment of officials. There has been no early word as to whether the Boston contingent might become involved in any referendum in Rome; however, a referendum is something supporters of Rome2024 want to avoid at all costs, given the success of other cities in taking a stand.

The current contenders for the 2024 Games (in addition to Rome) are Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris.

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