Are the Olympics a 'white elephant'? Rome's mayor opposes bid for the Games

Mayor Virginia Raggi joins a number of cities declining a chance to host the prestigious event due to high costs and debt loads for host cities. 

Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters/File
Rome's Mayor Virginia Raggi attends a news conference at Rome's famed Spanish Steps in September.

Italy’s Olympic Committee (CONI) will likely abandon its bid to host the 2024 summer Olympics in Rome, after Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi refused to give her blessing to the games.

Roman officials such as Ms. Raggi are concerned enough about the construction costs – and debt – that winning such a bid would spur that Rome has joined the growing list of cities opting out of hosting the games.

"In light of the data we have, these Olympics are not sustainable," said Raggi. "They will bring only debt."

Last week, CONI president Giovanni Malagò said that the committee would not pursue an Olympic hosting bid without Raggi’s permission – permission that the mayor emphatically refused to give.

"We are effectively asking the people of Rome and of Italy to shoulder the debts (accrued by hosting the Games). We just don't support it," the mayor said in a press conference. "Sport was an integral part of our electoral campaign, but we don't want it to be used as a pretext to a building spree around the city."

Instead, Raggi’s new administration is focused on paying off existing debts and handling the city’s ongoing budgetary issues.

Rome is not alone. The Olympics are becoming increasingly unappealing as debts and budget deficits pile up in host cities. The most recent summer games, hosted in Rio de Janiero, reportedly lost the city $4 billion.

Decades ago, the 1976 games left Montreal with unused facilities and $2 million in debt. Chicago pumped $100 million into a bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, eventually losing to Rio.

There are now just three contenders for the opportunity to host the 2024 Olympics: Los Angeles, Paris, and Budapest. Los Angeles and Paris have both previously hosted Olympic games, although Paris has not hosted the Summer Olympics since 1924. Budapest is considered the long shot to host.

From Hamburg to Madrid to Boston, cities are saying no to the Olympics. In Hamburg, a public referendum narrowly denied the city a chance to host, with 52 percent of voters weighing in with a "no."

Last summer, The Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass reported on the trend toward decreasing interest in hosting the costly games:

Boston is also part of a broader problem facing the Olympic movement: More and more cities are saying 'no thank you' to the prospect of hosting a multibillion dollar, two-week sports carnival. The bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics has progressed so poorly that only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, have not withdrawn.

The takeaway there, too, is that without significant outreach to the public, an Olympic bid can be seen not only as a hassle but a gigantic waste of money – particularly in the West.

Boston’s own bid failed after a dearth of public support and suspicion of city leaders who supported the games.

"Boston, Hamburg, and Madrid all had strong reasons to oppose hosting the Games. As Rome's mayor I believe this bid is unsustainable," said Raggi. "We don't need more white elephants. We need to restore the existing facilities, make the entry prices affordable to our citizens."

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