Metro vs. history: Rome Olympics in 2024?

1960 Summer Olympics logo

1960 Summer Olympics logo

The mix of headlines on the front page* was confusing. On one hand the city of Rome is wallowing in debt it won’t be able to pay off for decades, so we have cuts in all services planned for the near future.

We’re talking about a city that’s already severely public services/transportation-challenged. If they cut things back further, I’d expect a great number of inhabitants to consider moving elsewhere if we weren’t talking about change-resistant Italy.

I got confused because the other larger than life headline was about Rome presenting herself as a candidate for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games. Whoah there! How on earth is that supposed to happen?

The two-page spread explained it all in detail. The first page waxed financial and economic, specifying that most of those 5.3 billion Euros were expected to materialize from merchandising and sponsorships. I’ve never managed to get my head around billions (millions I can handle), but in any case a couple of billion were off the grid somewhere. The Games would presumably create a huge amount of jobs, mostly in the construction phase, with GDP being nudged up a few notches and family revenue too. Whose families wasn’t clear.  There are also nostalgic references to the Rome Olympics of 1960 and how today’s athletes would bond in spirit with those of the past.

I was digesting all of this with a large dose of skepticism, until I got to the next page. A full-blown map of Rome had all these little dots indicating the planned facilities, and apparently about 70% of them already exist, are being built anyway or just have to be refurbished. The little dots are clustered around three main areas, and I started looking more closely at each of them and what they represent. Strangely, it all started to make more sense. Rome does have very many facilities that could create great memorable venues – some stunning such as the Baths of Caracalla and Circo Massimo, others in the parks of Rome that many tourists aren’t familiar with at all, such as Villa Ada. The more central Piazza di Siena inside Villa Borghese already hosts a yearly horse-jumping competition, and the 2022 Ryder Cup will be held on a golf course just outside the city limits.

Villa Ada sunset

Villa Ada sunset

As in most Olympic Games planning, the gamble is on creating facilities that will serve the host city well in the future. The proposed Olympic village for athletes to live in would be built next to Tor Vergata University, just outside the Ring-road, and would morph into a campus housing 17,000 students after the whole circus folds. That’s the detail that really caught my attention, as it would be a huge step ahead for a capital into which students flock, mainly from the south of Italy, and where rooms to rent are few and expensive at present. The planned marathon course rings a positive note too: it would wind its way along the banks of the Tiber and end at the Arch of Constantine, after having passed in front of Saint Peter’s, the Great Synagogue of Rome and the Mosque of Rome.

The new A.S. Roma football club stadium (to be built in the south of the city) is also being considered for some events. It’s an existing overall project that includes shops and apartments that’s still bogged down in municipal wrangles. If it doesn’t move ahead, there’s meant to be a Plan B for those competitions.

Am I convinced? Not really but I’m certainly interested.  It would seem doable, were it not for a major issue. Lodging for visitors shouldn’t be a problem, hotels would presumably fill up nicely to bursting point, but in any case every Tizio, Caio and Sempronio here have started to jump onto the b&b bandwagon, and are renting out rooms, apartments and cubby-holes of all kinds to weather the ongoing financial downturn.

View of Palatino and Circo Massino

View of Palatino and Circo Massino

But the real, unavoidable problem remains. Quality of everyday life in Rome has been slipping for years, and most of it is related to too many cars and tourist buses in the city center, inefficient public transportation, hair-raising traffic jams, bad drivers, road-rage and illegal entitled habits. I nearly forgot the armies of locust-like motorcycles and motorini who are usually in Kamikaze mode. Gridlocked crossroads and double-parking are the norm. Strikes I presume many tourists are familiar with, as they’ve been known to affect holidays from the very moment visitors land in Rome … and have to haul their luggage out of the airplane themselves. Taxis are no strangers to strikes either, and like in other parts of Europe, they fight consumer-friendly Über- type services tooth and claw.

More fundamentally, all over the world, when cities decide to host a global event, the first thing they do is dig new metro (=underground or subway) lines. But you can’t do that here, the undersoil is chock-full of Roman ruins of all shapes and sizes, from whole villas to minute chunks of pottery: whatever their size, all are revered, considered historical artifacts, and in the best of circumstances can only be moved after lengthy and costly legal procedures and special authorizations. If ever.

Getting ready for the marathon

Getting ready for the marathon

So the real issued stands: how will all the Olympic visitors be expected to get around town? Hopefully someone will start working on some kind of believable plan before they present Rome’s application.

Have you ever had a really major event held in your city? What was the experience like – pre-, during and post?

*Source: Il Messaggero – Giovedì 18 febbraio 2016

Photos:  1960 Summer Olympics logo en.wikipedia.org; Villa Ada sunset commons.wikimedia.org; view of Palatino and Circo Massimo www.italia.it: running shoes mine.

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10 Responses to Metro vs. history: Rome Olympics in 2024?

  1. Rex Guevana says:

    But a cursory look at the commentary coming from Hamburg and Rome, two cities competing with Boston for the 2024 Olympics, reveals that we are not alone in our Sturm und Drang and agita.

    • Bea dM says:

      Hi, thanks for your comment pointing it out! I see they both withdrew their candidatures, whereas here people are too passive to do anything about it. I’m not totally against holding them here – these events can be opportunities for infrastructure renewal. It’s just that I don’t see where the huge investments will come from, and Rome’s got a bad track record with corruption and bad management…

  2. Kally says:

    Sometimes I wonder if Olympics help a country or pull it further down. I know the exposure is huge but I don’t think the layman, the ones right at the bottom gets to enjoy much.

    • Bea dM says:

      The ideals are great – sports thanks to which all nationalities can mix, but nowadays, the logistics are hellish planning, and then you actually have to carry out the projects!

  3. eurobrat says:

    Oof. It seems like every country which has accepted a big event like the Olympics (or in Brazil’s case, the World Cup) ends up burdened by massive problems and hardships for its citizens. At this point, getting one of these events seems more like a curse than a victory….

    • Bea dM says:

      It’s just that quality of life for locals can be upended. The upside is all the infrastructure for the future, as long as it’s well-planned, but costs are high in any case

  4. zipfslaw1 says:

    Having been to Beijing after the Olympics, I can’t imagine what it was like before the Olympics. The metro system there increased by size enormously, and apparently was barely there at all before.

  5. Hi Bea,

    Boston was in the running for the 2024 Olympics and thankfully, due to public outcry, Boston was withdrawn from the running. For many of the same reasons you cite in your post.

    Hopefully, if there are enough people in Rome against hosting the Olympics, they will prevail.

    Nancy

    • Bea dM says:

      Thanks for your on target comment, Nancy. It’s sad though that such a worthwhile event that brings athletes from the whole world together has grown into something so unweildy it becomes a problem for locals. After lots of mulling, I’d be ok with it if we could crisscross our undersoil with multiple metro lines!

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