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Italy can’t afford to host Olympics, won’t bid

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REPORTING FROM ROME –- Hosting the Olympics in 2020 is a luxury that Italy cannot afford in times of economic uncertainty, Prime Minister Mario Monti said Tuesday, a day before bids were to be formally tendered to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Monti said after a Cabinet meeting that his 3-month-old government “did not feel it would be responsible, considering Italy’s current financial condition, to undertake this commitment.”

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This government, Monti told reporters, “has had to ask for very serious sacrifices from much of the population,” and therefore “could not risk losing the benefits expected from such sacrifice.”

Monti and his Cabinet of technocrats were called in to replace the government of Silvio Berlusconi, who resigned Nov. 16 amid sex scandals and a precipitating financial crisis.

Monti said that Italy’s economic difficulties will continue for many years and therefore “we couldn’t take on the risk of an Olympic budget in the red.”

The government’s decision left promoters and Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno bitterly disappointed.

“Renouncing a winning candidacy, based on a technically excellent and economically sober project, means they are not betting on the future of Italy,” said Alemanno, who had aggressively promoted the bid.

Hosting the Games in Rome had an estimated price tag of $12.5 billion. Many Olympics host cities have been saddled with debts resulting from enormous costs not offset by sponsors and attendees.

Monti said that his Cabinet’s unanimous decision was not based on defects in the project, which he said was a good and serious plan, but on the risk of taking on the burden of paying for Olympic Games with an uncertain financial return.

‘Italy can and must have ambitious goals. Our government is focused also on its growth, not just on strictness,’ he said. ‘But at this time we don’t think it would be fitting to commit Italy to this type of guarantee, which could put at risk taxpayers’ money.’

The remaining candidate cities are Tokyo; Madrid; Istanbul, Turkey; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Doha, Qatar.

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-- Sarah Delaney


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