Rome's new mayor set to pull plug on 2024 Olympics bid

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[September 21, 2016]  By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Rome's new mayor, Virginia Raggi, has decided to oppose its bid to host the Olympics, a city hall official said on Wednesday, a new blow to the 2024 Games after the withdrawal of Boston and Hamburg.

The decision, to be announced later on Wednesday, follows comments from Raggi and others within her anti-establishment 5-Star Movement that the heavily indebted city could ill afford to fund the Games and that it would be a magnet for corruption.

Raggi was elected in June, after Rome had already formed a bid committee with the support of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Its withdrawal would leave only Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest in the bidding, with the U.S. city firming as frontrunner.

Boston pulled out over financial concerns and the residents of Hamburg voted against that city's bid in a referendum. The 5-Star Movement had always voiced doubts about staging the sporting spectacular, but the Rome bid team and Italy's Olympic committee had held out hopes of changing Raggi's mind.

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago has said the bid would fail without the city council's backing.

During the mayoral election campaign, Raggi said the city had other priorities but did not definitively back away from the bid. In one election debate, she said she would call a popular referendum on whether to continue with it.

 

Revelations of systematic corruption involving Roman politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen in late 2014 prompted doubts about whether the city could handle work associated with the Olympics in a transparent way.

Rome had also bid to host the 2020 Games, but then-prime minister Mario Monti withdrew due to concerns over Italy's finances.

Raggi, who has been beset by resignations, infighting and scandals in her first few months as mayor, is due to give a news conference about the Olympics bid at 1330 GMT.

She is expected to explain the decision to withdraw by citing major cost overruns that have left past host cities in debt, the city hall official said.

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Rome's newly elected mayor Virginia Raggi, of 5-Star Movement, gestures during a news conference in Rome, Italy June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

One of 5-Star Movement's leaders, Luigi Di Maio, came out strongly against the bid this month, saying: "People who want to get rich by spreading cement over our country can go to hell."

The Olympics movement is concerned the Games is losing its luster, with a pattern of cities pulling out of bidding for both summer and winter Games after baulking at the huge investments required. Brazil spent about $12 billion on the Rio Games last month, which proved a sporting success but were marred by empty seats and street crime.

The International Olympic Committee took steps in December 2014 to cut the cost of the Games and make bidding more attractive to potential hosts, but the so-called Agenda 2020 has failed to stop cities withdrawing their candidacies, scared off by the size, cost and complexity of the event.

The International Olympic Committee is due to select the 2024 host city in September 2017.

(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Mark Trevelyan)

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