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Mike Rowbottom: Malago in Agony as Rome 2024 Bid Shuts Down and Hopes for a Miracle

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CONI President Giovanni Malago. Photo: LaPresse

This week’s press briefing on the stricken Rome 2024 bid by the President of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) Giovanni Malagò took place in front of a florid mural depicting the towering figure of Mussolini as he bestrode a scene of conflict and ultimate victory.

The contrast between the grandiose image in CONI’s Salle d’Honore and the attitude of the main speaker was bitterly ironic – for this was an extended and agonized exhibition of powerlessness.

As well as being a hugely well-connected businessman, Malagò is a gentleman; indeed he could even be the noblest Roman of them all.

Photos from the UEFA Roma 2020 official logo unveiling in September show him kissing the hand of the new young Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, whose instinctive opposition to bidding for the 2024 Olympics has effectively confounded the efforts to bring the Games back to the Italian capital after a gap of what would be 64 years.

From the start of his address to a room packed with Italian media,  Malagò announced that he did not wish to engage in polemic. He said it more than once. But by the time he had finished a speech in which he was by turns distraught, angry, passionate and dismayed, Malagò had done everything but describe Raggi as “that bloody woman”.

He disputed her claim that the the people of Rome didn’t want the Games. “Fifty percent of people in Rome said ‘no’ – that’s not true, I’m sorry,” he said. “In all of the surveys the majority of our citizens believed in Rome 2024.”

He disputed the idea that the Games would be “an open check,” claiming only two new stadiums would be required and insisting he had always said that Rome could only have contemplated becoming a candidate following the new focus on lessening the financial burdens on bidding cities as encapsulated in the IOC’s Agenda 2020 project.

“How can you say to a person that he has to withdraw in the 30th kilometre of a marathon after being in training for three years?,” he asked plaintively. “Can you imagine this?”

He emphasized the support the bid had from the Government down to the regional levels, adding: “We have done what we have been asked to do in the best possible way.”

He explained that, despite CONI sending many messages requesting a meeting with the Mayor, she did not accede to their request.

His anger reached a high point as he mentioned the six-line letter sent by Raggi to the IOC on October 7 withdrawing Rome’s bid just ahead of the visit of Rome 2024’s Director General, Diana Bianchedi, who submitted the second part of the bid’s candidature file to Lausanne by the midnight deadline.

His voice rising, he insisted that the Mayor did not have the right or position to declare the bid over – that was the prerogative of the Italian Olympic Committee, for it was the Italian Olympic Committee which was engaged in dialogue with the International Olympic Committee.

“The IOC members are not going to vote for us if this is the situation,” he told the packed room.

“They are not interested in coming to a city where the Mayor is not happy to receive them.”

He then recalled how in early interviews about Rome’s challenge for the 2024 Games, he had said: “The one thing I am afraid of is the friendly fire.”

Certainly Malagò stated that the Bid Committee was closing with immediate effect.

That is a legal necessity as they work with public money and thus cannot continue operation on a project that is officially in abeyance.

And yet, even though the revolver appeared to be lying, with one bullet in the chamber, in front of him, the CONI President could not bring himself to apply it to the temple of Rome’s 2024 bid in the temple of Italian Olympic sport.

“Questa mattina ho scritto al CIO la lettera con cui interrompiano il percorso di candidatura di #Roma2024,” he said.

(“This morning I wrote a letter to the IOC to interrupt the progress of Rome 2024’s candidature.”)

To interrupt something implies a resumption. The choice of phrase caused some confusion among those present, yet when questioned about it by Franco Fava, the distinguished former Olympian and journalist with Corriere dello Sport, Malagò remained opaque, offering alternative interpretations of the position as “stopping” or “closing”. But not withdrawing.

The elections that took place on Monday to establish the new Rome Metropolitan City Council involved the whole province around the capital. The Metropolitan City Council now has a 15-9 majority of councilors in favor of going ahead with the 2024 Olympic bid.

This means that the Government, the region and the province are now all in favor of an Olympic bid and the CONI hope is that the volatile political situation that exists within the Rome Capital Council may see an alteration of its position.

Raggi is Mayor in both the Capital and the Metropolitan City Councils, but in the latter she has no majority.

The backstop date is February 3, when the third phase of the candidature files need to be presented to the IOC.

“We are interrupting the bid today, which is not the same as ending it,” a Rome 2024 spokesman told insidethegames.

“Maybe it will go ahead, maybe not. We will see what happens. I think we can wait until the end of the year.”

It is not so much an Olympic flame; more a flickering candle. But for now, CONI and its beleaguered President are huddling over its faint light and warmth.

By Nick Butler

Republished with permission of insidethegames.biz.

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