October 11, 2016 - 10:08 AM
ROME - Italy suspended Rome's bid for the 2024 Olympics on Tuesday, forced to pull the plug because of the staunch opposition of the city's mayor.
Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago said that he had written to the IOC announcing the decision to "interrupt the candidacy."
While the letter left open a small possibility for a revival of the bid if there is a change in city government, Malago didn't hold out much hope.
"Today the game is over. But if someone decides that the game isn't over it's not up to us. But today we're ending the game," Malago told The Associated Press after his announcement at a news conference. "That's it."
The move comes after Rome's city council voted last month to withdraw support of the bid on the recommendation of Mayor Virginia Raggi.
"The bid committee is officially liquidated as of today," Malago said. "It's a big wound for us. I hope they realize how bad an impression we've made."
The International Olympic Committee said it had "taken note" of the Italian decision and "will further explore with the candidature committee what this means."
"All the circumstances and the information that we have received in the past days clearly demonstrate that this is about Italian politics only," the IOC said.
Rome's withdrawal leaves only Los Angeles, Paris, and Budapest, Hungary, in the running for the 2024 Games. The IOC will select the host city in September 2017.
It's also the second time in four years that a Rome bid has been withdrawn or suspended. In 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city's bid for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.
"I feel like I've been robbed of hope," Rome bid vice-president and Italian Paralympic Committee president Luca Pancalli said.
Hoping to regain the trust of the IOC, Malago said he was offering up Milan as host of the IOC session in 2019.
"This is the first step of Italy's rehabilitation after this unacceptable interruption," Malago said. "The other evening I had a chance to discuss this possibility with (IOC President) Thomas Bach and IOC general director Christophe De Kepper and there is ample support for this idea."
"This is a way to turn the page and move on," Malago added.
Raggi, who represents the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, said that taking on the costs of an Olympic bid is "irresponsible" for a city struggling to emerge from years of corruption and poor public services.
While Raggi wrote a letter to the IOC last month, IOC rules state that only the national Olympic committee can withdraw a candidacy.
"Anybody can write to the IOC but the only letter that counts is the one from the president of the Olympic committee," Malago said.
Since being elected in June as Rome's first female mayor, Raggi has had a rough first few months in office. Her administration was thrown into chaos after she dismissed her Cabinet chief and four other officials resigned.
A budget of 24 million euros ($27 million) had been allotted — much of it spent — to the 2024 candidacy, even though bid leader Luca Cordero di Montezemolo had no salary.
Malago revealed that he would have promoted Nerio Alessandri, the entrepeneur who is president and founder of Technogym, as organizing committee president if Rome had won, with architect Renzo Piano in a supervisory position.
"But I was never able to speak with the mayor since she was elected," Malago said.
Malago compared Rome's situation to Vancouver's withdrawal six months before the 1980 Winter Games were awarded to Lake Placid in 1976. Vancouver had to wait 30 years to host the 2010 Winter Games.
"While it's true that Canada had two games in the intervening years — Montreal (1976) and Calgary (1988) — I think Vancouver paid a big price for that decision," Malago said. "Rome and Italy find themselves in a similar situation today."
Still, the "interruption" of the bid is another signal that the IOC still has work to do to convince cities that hosting the games is a boon and not a burden.
Last month, a city government panel in Tokyo warned that the cost of the 2020 Olympics could exceed $30 billion, more than four times the initial estimates.
Voters in Hamburg rejected the German city's 2024 bid in a referendum, and Boston dropped out last year amid a lack of public and political support and was replaced as the U.S. candidate by Los Angeles.
Four cities withdrew during the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, leaving only two candidates in the field. Beijing, hardly known as a winter sports destination, defeated Almaty, Kazakhstan.
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News from © The Associated Press, 2016