I recently read on an italian newspaper that Rome is the great favourite for the 2020 Olympics. Frankly, as an Italian living in Rome, I don’t know if Rome should be happy about this, or what I should think, in general, of the selection process. Yes, I know that hosting the Olympic Games is supposed to give great visibility to a city and create local jobs, but I’m still confused. Here’s why:

  • Italy still has a bad job-safety record (“white deaths”). For details, read these articles from:

  • Italy has a long record of public works (even for sport events) carrying final costs far exceeding the budget, corruption and, in some cases, little or questionable long term benefits for residents. Quoting only the most recent and more relevant examples (but please do note the 2011/09/02 update below!):

    • it looks like the 2008 Cycling World Championship in Italy were 8 times more expensive than those of the following year in Switzerland

    • there is an investigation about what has been called “a system based on pure corruption” (also mentioned by the Guardian) on the construction projects for… the 2009 Swimming World Championship in Rome.

  • Rome, as most other big italian cities, is already too congested to stand more construction (unless it is really necessary and useful, see below). Even without the Olympics, 10.000 hectares of italian surface are covered by buildings every year and each Rome resident spends on average 260 hours each year stuck in traffic

  • While, at the moment, Rome isn’t suffering the same garbage crisis as Naples, it still is at the edge of a Waste Apocalypse and there is no serious alternative plan in sight yet

  • Oh, and then there’s history, of course: if you dig a hole any part of Rome, you’ll very likely uncover some other Roman villa, ship, temple or road, whose necessary study and relocation will delay construction and increase costs

All this brings two questions to my mind. One is, what is the advantage of hosting the Olympics for the citizens of Rome? Those working in the tourism and service sectors will get extra job opportunities, but many of them (often without any contract, if things will remain as today) will be limited to that short period. And it’s not like Rome really needs the Olympics to attract millions of tourists, does it now?

What about the other job sectors? Even if corruption didn’t exist around here, most of the (public!!!) money thrown at these events ends up in the pockets of construction companies stock holders, not to pay jobs or improve services. If the goal is to create jobs, I’d vote against the Olympics, in favour of fixing for good the actual problems already existing in Rome, any day. As an example, did you know that only one every five public schools in Italy doesn’t present any safety risk due to lack of maintenance, restructuring and so on? What about tax cuts or any other stimulus for construction companies that hire workers to fix Rome’s public schools then?

The second question is: what are the criteria to assign the Olympics Games? Are the Games a prize or an encouragement, something like “Since I’ve given you the Games, I hope you’ll clean yourself up and behave”?

If it depended on me, I’d give the Games only as a prize. I’d only admit the candidacy of cities that had already sensibly increased the quality of life for its residents and visitors before presenting themselves. If it depended on me, Rome probably wouldn’t get the 2020 Olympics. As I said, I’m confused.

2011/09/02 update: today the international Olympic Committee has formally published the list of the six cities candidates for the 2020 Olympic Games: Baku, Doha, Istanbul, Madrid, Rome, Tokyo. Almost simultaneously, Italian newspaper Il Fatto has reported that the person appointed as president of the “2020 Olympic Games commission” for Rome is a Mr. Romolo Del Balzo, who has been (literal quote from the newspaper) “under investigation by the Anti Mafia District Directorate of Rome for years, and signalled as the heir of the economic activities of Alberto Beneduce, a criminal boss killed in 1990”. I had never heard Mr Del Balzo’s name until this morning and of course everybody’s innocent until proven guilty. so this is in no way an an accusation or critique against him. My only point is that the general scenario described in the article sounds to me as yet another confirmation that maybe the current class of local political administrators should radically change and restructure certain habits and procedures BEFORE being given the region another chance or excuse to move around lots of money.